This is not the first time that the panel has taken up the issue of the Israeli spyware.(AP/For Representative Purposes Only)
This is not the first time that the panel has taken up the issue of the Israeli spyware.(AP/For Representative Purposes Only)

House IT panel likely to take up Pegasus issue on July 28

The panel, going by the notification HT has accessed, will hear what the ministry of electronics and information technology, ministry of home affairs and the department of telecommunications have to say on this.
By Deeksha Bhardwaj, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 21, 2021 07:45 AM IST

A parliamentary committee on information technology chaired by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor is likely to take up on July 28 the alleged illegal surveillance mounted on journalists, activists, opposition leaders, etc, using Israeli military-grade spyware Pegasus, a person familiar with the matter said.

The panel, going by the notification HT has accessed, will hear what the ministry of electronics and information technology, ministry of home affairs and the department of telecommunications have to say on this.

“GoI has denied resorting to unauthorised surveillance. The question this raises is, if #Pegasus is only sold to governments, which other govts (China/Pak?) are using it to snoop on prominent Indian citizens? Shouldn’t the authorities call for an independent investigation,” Tharoor had tweeted on July 18.

This is not the first time that the panel has taken up the issue of the Israeli spyware. In 2019, after instant messaging service WhatsApp had reported being vulnerable to the spyware attack, the panel had called these same ministries to explain their stand.At the time, At the time, the issue required an unusual vote to take up the matter as BJP members resisted the suggestion -- a casting vote by Tharoor finally broke a tie.

“It’s been proved that phones examined in India had invasion of Pegasus. Since this product is only sold to vetted govts, question arises which government? If GoI says they haven’t done it, some other govt did it, then it’s a more serious national security concern,” news agency ANI quoted Tharoor as saying on Tuesday.

The maker of the spyware — Israel-based NSO Group — has said that it only supplies the software to governments. On Monday, reports had surfaced that claimed that apart from 38 Indian journalists, former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and two of his aides, Trinamool Congress national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee, political strategist Prashant Kishor and former election commissioner Ashok Lavasa’s phones had also been hacked. The list also included the number of a woman who had accused former chief justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment and the numbers of 11 of her friends and family members.

The investigation by a global consortium of media houses also named public health experts Gagandeep Kang and M Hari Menon and diplomats from at least five countries as potential targets of Pegasus software.

Union information technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, who defended the government in Parliament hours before being named as a potential hacking target, and Jal Shakti minister of state Prahlad Singh Patel, were the high-profile government names in the list of people who were allegedly snooped on.

The consortium published on Sunday that 38 Indian journalists, including three current Hindustan Times staffers and one from sister publication Mint, were among 180 journalists potentially targeted worldwide, including Financial Times editor Roula Khalaf, and reporters from the Wall Street Journal, CNN, New York Times, and Le Monde.

To be sure, as the methodology of the investigation explains, the presence of a number does not indicate the individual’s phone was hacked — just that it was of interest.

The Indian government has denied any involvement. But the opposition has called for a probe into the allegations.

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