By Aariz S. Chandra
The first day of the Monsoon Session of Parliament on Monday was washed away by protests over price rise and the fast-breaking story of alleged hacking of mobile phones of a few ministers, opposition leaders, some 40 journalists and other functionaries through Israeli spyware available for sale only to sovereign governments. Reports said the phones of former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, strategist Prashant Kishor and former Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa were among the phones that had been hacked from 2017 to 2019.
CPI parliamentary party leader Binoy Viswam said he will give notice for an adjournment motion and decried the tentacles of the spy state. BJP Vice President Subramanian Swamy said it would be sensible if Home Minister Amit Shah tells Parliament that the Narendra Modi Government has had no involvement with the Israeli company that has tapped telephones. The uproar has been across the board with Aam Aadmi Party’s Sanjay Singh and Dr Sushil Gupta also raising the matter in the Rajya Sabha.
A joint media investigation of European, American and Indian collaborators said Pegasus spyware, developed by Israeli surveillance company NSO Group, was used to keep an eye on some 50,000 telephone numbers globally of ministers, opposition leaders, activists, journalists, and judges. The joint investigation was anchored by Paris-based media non-profit Forbidden Stories and rights group Amnesty International and its 17 media partners.
Responding to the reports, the government referred to its reply given to the media consortium and said similar claims were made in the past as well regarding the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp by India and those reports also had no factual basis and were categorically denied by all parties, including WhatsApp in the Supreme Court.
It said there is a procedure for lawful interception of electronic communication in the interests of national security by agencies at the Centre and states and it ensures that any such interception or monitoring of any computer resource is done as per law.
But given the way the story is turning, Pegasus could turn out to be a perception nightmare for the Narendra Modi government.