New Delhi: A day after reports surfaced in the media of alleged snooping on journalists, politicians and other personalities of the country using Pegasus, a spyware developed by Israeli firm NSO Group, Union Information and Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, while replying on behalf of the government to questions raised by the opposition in the Lok Sabha on Monday, rubbished the reports of espionage.
Terming it is an attempt to malign Indian democracy, Vaishnaw said that by logic, the website (The Wire) only tried to create sensation through baseless news reports. If the members pay proper attention to the news, then they themselves will understand this, he said.
The Union minister said, “The NSO has also said that the report is false and baseless. Any kind of illegal surveillance is not possible in our system. This media report coming a day before Parliament session is not a coincidence.”
He also slammed reports about the government’s use of Israeli spyware Pegasus to spy on opposition leaders, journalists and others, including its own ministers.
He said that in the past, similar claims were made regarding the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp, which had no factual basis and were denied by all parties.
He insisted that no form of illegal surveillance is possible with checks and balances given India’s laws and its robust institutions.
“In India, there’s a well-established procedure through which lawful interception of electronic communication is carried out for the purpose of national security. With checks and balances in place, illegal surveillance is not possible,” he said.
The minister clarified that requests for lawful interceptions of electronic communication are made as per the relevant rules under Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, and Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Each case of interception is approved by the competent authority.
The minister was making a statement on the Pegasus project reports published in The Wire, which showed that over 300 phone numbers – including those of two serving ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders, among others, – could have been targetted for hacking using the Pegasus spyware.