Pegasus Hacking: Illegal Surveillance Not Possible, Says Union Minister Vaishnaw
New Delhi: Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnaw has rubbished reports suggesting India used Israeli spyware Pegasus to hack phones of journalists, activists and ministers.
Saying that it was an attempt to “malign Indian democracy and its well-established institutions”, Odisha’s Vaishnaw remarked there was no substance behind the “highly sensational story” that has made several “over the top” allegations.
“It is not a coincidence that the reports have been published a day before the monsoon session of Parliament. In the past, similar allegations were made (about use of Pegasus) on WhatsApp but there is no factual basis to these and have been categorically denied,” Vaishnaw stated while delivering his first speech in Parliament as a minister.
According to an international investigation involving 17 media organizations including The Guardian, Washington Post and India’s news website The Wire, India is among a number of countries that used Israeli company NSO Group’s Pegasus phone-hacking software to target politicians, journalists and activists.
The first part of the extensive investigation was released late on Sunday night. Aaccording to The Guardian, 38 Indian journalists — including those from mainstream publications and websites, apart from freelancers — were targeted. Worldwide, the report said 180 journalists were targeted.
Vaishnaw, who is also Railways minister, pointed out that there were inconsistencies in the report.
“One report clearly states that the presence of a number on NSO’s list does not mean it is under surveillance. The consortium has accessed a leaked database of 40,000 numbers. The presence of the number does not indicate whether there was an attempted hack, or a successful one,” he said.
An NSO statement has said the report misleading.
“The response also states that the names of countries using Pegasus is incorrect,” Vaishnaw said.
“No form of illegal surveillance is possible with the kind of checks and balances instituted by the government,” he added, citing the Telegraph Act and Information Technology Act.