House panel calls Home ministry, MeitY and DoT over Pegasus reports
The parliamentary committee on information technology, led by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, is expected to take up reports of snooping on politicians, journalists and others with Israeli-made spyware Pegasus at its July 28 meeting, a person familiar with the matter said.
The panel will hear from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Ministry of Home Affairs and the Department of Telecommunications regarding the alleged hacking of phones.
“Evidence of the representatives of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Communications (Department of Telecommunications) on the subject ‘Citizens’ data security and privacy’,” said the notification of the panel, accessed by Hindustan Times.
“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,” panel chair Tharoor tweeted on July 18.
This is not the first time the panel has taken up the issue of the Israeli spyware. In 2019, after WhatsApp’s vulnerabilities surfaced, the panel heard from the respective departments regarding the issue.
The software, which is made by Israel-based NSO Group, said it only supplies to government clients. On Monday, reports revealed that aside from 38 journalists, former Congress party chief Rahul Gandhi, two of his aides, political strategist Prashant Kishor, former election commissioner Ashok Lavasa and Union minister Prahlad Patel were also allegedly hacked. The list also included 11 members of the friends and family, along with the number of the woman who accused former Chief Justice of India Rajan Gogoi of sexual harassment.
The investigation by the 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 manufactured by Israeli firm NSO Group. Also on the list were the woman who accused then CJI Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment in 2019 and her relatives, election strategist Prashant Kishor, and Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Abhishek Banerjee.
Union information technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, who defended the government in Parliament hours before being named a potential hacking target, and Jal Shakti minister of state Prahlad Singh Patel were the high-profile government names.
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, The 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 government denied any involvement. The opposition, however, has called for a probe into the allegations.