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IT Minister Rahul Gandhi, Prashant Kishor target Pegasus

The government on Monday denied claims that it had used the spyware Pegasus to “compromise” the phone data of some people, but The Wire, the news portal that was part of the Pegasus project, which launched a campaign against Israel in several countries. Published, investigated potential espionage using spyware. The latest data showed that IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnav himself was on the long list of people who could be victims.

Soon after the minister’s statement, the entire opposition staged a walkout and both houses of Parliament were adjourned. Union Home Minister Amit Shah said the report was “by obstructors for roadblocks”.

It was Vaishnav who led the government’s defense that there was no truth to The Wire’s report. “The premise of this report is that there is a consortium that has got access to a leaked database of 50,000 phone numbers. The allegation that persons linked to these phone numbers were being spied upon,” Vaishnav told the Lok Sabha, this was not true as the report itself accepted that the presence of a phone number on the database meant no phone call. Infected with spyware, which can be installed only after technical analysis.

The minister said the report came out a day before the monsoon session – it was no coincidence. They had come up before and were denied. And India had “robust” systems to prevent illegal surveillance, he said.

But within minutes of his statement, The Wire said in the second part of its disclosure from an international collaborative investigation that spyware had been found on the smartphones of several other political leaders, including prominent opposition strategist Prashant Kishor and Vaishnav himself.

ALSO READ: Decoded: The secret Pegasus spyware infects phones, listens in

Pegasus is sold by the Israeli company NSO Group to “investigated governments” around the world.

The Wire does not directly say that the phones of those on the list were hacked. It said the leaked database of numbers – “selected as potential targets for surveillance by NSO Group customers” – includes Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and at least two ministers in the Narendra Modi government: Vaishnav (inducted as a Minister of Railways, Communications and Electronics and Information Technology) on 7 July), and Minister of State Prahlad Singh Patel. The list shows that several people associated with the workings of the election were also selected for possible monitoring. This includes Ashok Lavasa, the lone election commissioner to blame the BJP for violating the model code of conduct in the lead-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The record also includes Jagdeep Chokhar, founder of the prominent election watchdog Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), who was placed on the list at around the same time as Lavasa.

The leaked data also revealed that over 11 phone numbers of the Supreme Court employee and his close relatives, who had accused former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment in April 2019, have been targeted for surveillance. as was selected.

The list also includes someone who has been an important part of India’s fight against COVID-19, virologist Gagandeep Kang. She was selected for possible surveillance in 2018, when she was helping tackle the fight against the Nipah virus.

Vaishnav, in his statement, which was repeatedly interrupted by opposition leaders, said this level of espionage by the government was not possible.

ALSO READ: Pegasus row: ‘You understand the chronology’, says Shah on espionage charge

“In India, there is a well-established procedure through which the lawful interception of electronic communications for the purpose of national security, in particular on the occurrence of any public emergency or in the interest of public safety, is carried out by agencies at the Center and State. Requests for these lawful interceptions of electronic communications are made in accordance with the relevant rules under the provisions of section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Every case of interception or surveillance shall be These powers are also available to the Competent Authority in the State Governments as per the IT (Process and Security for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009. A very good form of review committee There is an oversight mechanism established from who are adversely affected by any such event. Therefore, the process ensures that any interception or surveillance of information is done as per due process of law,” he said.

Opposition leaders, including Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi and National Democratic Alliance (NDA) ally Janata Dal (United), said they were shocked and shaken by the revelations. The Congress demanded that Union Home Minister Amit Shah be sacked and Prime Minister Narendra Modi should be investigated and alleged that the government can now listen to “bedroom talks”.

Also read: Illegal Surveillance

“This is clearly ‘sedition’ and complete renunciation of ‘national security’ by the Modi government, especially when a foreign company may have access to this data,” a Congress statement said.

Interestingly, Ravi Shankar Prasad, who was recently removed from the post of IT minister, had his own twist. He had defended the government the last time the report came out. On Monday, he said, “NSO, which is the manufacturer of Pegasus, has clearly stated that its customers are mostly western countries. So why is India being targeted in this case? What is the story behind this? In the story What’s the twist?”

Opposition leaders, including the highly vocal Trinamool Congress, have vowed not to let the story die. The matter will come up again in the Parliament meeting on Tuesday.

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