Illegal surveillance not possible: MeitY Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw
New Delhi: Union minister for electronics and information technology (MeitY) Ashwini Vaishnaw on Monday countered media reports on Pegasus issue and said 'illegal surveillance' is not possible in India.
Speaking in the Lok Sabha, he said: "I’m sure my colleagues in the opposition who have been in Government for years would be well aware of these protocols. Since they have governed the country, they would also be aware that any form of illegal surveillance is not possible with the checks and balances in our laws and our robust institutions."
"In India, there is a well established procedure through which lawful interception of electronic communication is carried out for the purpose of national security, particularly on the occurrence of any public emergency or in the interest of public safety, by agencies at the Centre and States. The requests for these lawful interception of electronic communication are made as per relevant rules under the provisions of section 5(2) of Indian Telegraph Act,1885 and section 69 of the Information TechnologyAct, 2000," he said.
The news report on Pegasus emerged just a day before the Monsoon Session of the Indian Parliament started.
"The press reports have appeared a day before the Monsoon session of Parliament. This cannot be a coincidence," the Minister said.
The proceedings of the Rajya Sabha were adjourned for the day on Monday amid Opposition ruckus over a host of issues.
Members of Opposition parties created a pandemonium over the special status to Andhra Pradesh, alleged spying on journalists, citizenship of a new minister among other issues, leading to a brief discussion on only one bill.
Similar images were seen in the Lok Sabha.
The Lok Sabha was adjourned for the day on Monday, the first day of the monsoon session of Parliament, amid Opposition ruckus over several issues including new farm bills, fuel price hike and COVID-19 management.
As soon as the House assembled at 1530 hrs, Information and Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw told the members that the media report of hacking mobile phones of several journalists, lawyers and activists by using Israeli spyware Pegasus was false and the media report's sole purpose was to malign Indian democracy.
Rahul Gandhi tweets:
Reacting to the Pegasus issue, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted: " We know what he’s been reading- everything on your phone! #Pegasus."
Phone numbers of Indian politicians and journalists have been allegedly bugged by using Israel spy software Pegasus and were even put on surveillance, media reports said on Sunday, just ahead of the start of the Monsoon Session of the Parliament.
The phone numbers of over 40 Indian journalists appear on a leaked list of potential targets for surveillance, and forensic tests have confirmed that some of them were successfully snooped upon by an unidentified agency using Pegasus spyware, The Wire reported.
The leaked data includes the numbers of top journalists at big media houses like the Hindustan Times, including executive editor Shishir Gupta, India Today, Network18, The Hindu and Indian Express, the report published in The Wire said.
Independent digital forensic analysis conducted on 10 Indian phones whose numbers were present in the data showed signs of either an attempted or successful Pegasus hack, The Wire reported.
Pegasus is sold by the Israeli company, NSO Group, which says it only offers its spyware to “vetted governments”.
The company refuses to make its list of customers public but the presence of Pegasus infections in India, and the range of persons that may have been selected for targeting, strongly indicate that the agency operating the spyware on Indian numbers is an official Indian one, reports The Wire.
The news portal claimed that two founding editors of it were also found in the list.
The leaked database was accessed by Paris-based media nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International and shared with The Wire, Le Monde, The Guardian, Washington Post Die Zeit, Suddeutsche Zeitung and 10 other Mexican, Arab and European news organisations as part of a collaborative investigation called the ‘Pegasus Project’, reports The Wire.