UPA govt intercepted 9000 call, 500 emails every month: RTI reveals amid Pegasus row
New Delhi/IBNS: While the Narendra Modi government is pilloried by the opposition on the snooping controversy, an RTI reply from 2013 has surfaced in media claiming that around 7,500-9,000 phones and 300-500 email accounts were intercepted every month by the then UPA government led by the Congress.
The RTI was filed by one Prosenjit Mondal and the response to the same was given by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on August 6, 2013.
The RTI reply states, "On an average, between 7,500 to 9,000 orders for interception of telephones and 300 to 500 orders for interception of emails are issued by Central Government per month whereas..."
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra cited that in two RTI replies, the UPA government in August 2013 had said that on an average its agencies intercepted 9000 telephone calls and 500 emails a month.
“Tell me how is this different from the December 20 order? The only difference is that the December 20 (order) was legally notified by the central government while the UPA had not notified it and upon an RTI they had released the list. These 10 agencies were working even at that time. They were snooping on 9000 telephone calls and 500 emails every month and Congress is accusing others of snooping? he told the media persons.
“The political party which enforced the emergency, the party which brought the post office amendment bill, how can that political party level such charges against another party? The Congress party for its opportunism has gone to the extent of playing with national security” he alleged.
The RTI reply had also disclosed that 10 agencies which did the monitoring are Intelligence Bureau, Narcotics Bureau, Enforcement Directorate, CBDT Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, CBI, NIA, RAW, Directorate of Signal Intelligence, DG Police of concerned state and Commissioner of Delhi.
This comes after a collaborative investigation report by The Wire, The Washington Post and The Guardian among others which claimed that more than 1,000 phone numbers in India appeared between 2017 and 2019 on the snooping list of the Pegasus, a spying tool that allows customers to infiltrate mobile phones and monitor messages, camera feeds and microphones.
Names of high profile political personalities like Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, former poll strategist Prashant Kishor, new IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, Union Minister Prahlad Patel and TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee among others have featured in the potential target list of the Israeli spyware, The Wire has reported in an explosive revelation.
Besides key politicians, over 40 Indian journalists and a constitutional authority were also found on the database of NSO as connected to people of interest since 2016, The Wire has reported.
Government defends Pegasus row:
Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Monday attacked the opposition over the report and called it "a report by disrupters for the obstructers".
He said the report is being used by the oppositions to disrupt the Parliament session that commenced on Monday.
Shah even used a phrase his critics have often used to target him: "Aap chronology samjhiye (understand the chronology)."
"People have often associated this phrase with me in a lighter vein but today I want to seriously say - the timing of the selective leaks, the disruptions...Aap Chronology Samjhiye!" the Home Minister said in a statement.
"This is a report by the disrupters for the obstructers. Disrupters are global organisations which do not like India to progress. Obstructers are political players in India who do not want India to progress. People of India are very good at understanding this chronology and connection," he added.
Earlier in the day, Ashwini Vaishnaw countered media reports on the 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."
Former Union IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has also defended the government and questioned why only India is being "targeted" for the use of the spyware when 45 nations are using it.
"The NSO, which is the manufacturer of Pegasus, has clearly said that its clients are mostly Western nations. So why is India being targetted in this matter? What is the story behind this? What is the twist in the tale?" he added.
The Israeli company, which sells Pegasus, has denied the snooping allegations, claiming that it only offers its spyware to "vetted governments" and said it was "considering a defamation lawsuit".
However, forensic tests have confirmed that some of them were successfully snooped upon by an unidentified agency using Pegasus spyware, The Wire reported.
The data was accessed by Paris-based nonprofit journalism organisation Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International and then shared with the Guardian, The Wire and other media outlets as part of the Pegasus project.
Most of the numbers identified in the list were geographically concentrated in 10 country clusters: India, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, The Wire reported.