New Delhi: Opposition parties Monday hit out at the government over the alleged phone-tapping of prominent personalities in India. The tapping of phones was allegedly done using Israeli Pegasus spyware. The opposition parties demanded an independent judicial or parliamentary committee probe into the matter. An international media consortium reported Sunday that more than 300 verified mobile phone numbers were tapped. Among them were two serving ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders and one sitting judge. Also there were scores of businesspersons and activists whose phones were tapped using the Pegasus spyware.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took a swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the matter using the hashtag ‘Pegasus’. “We know what he’s been reading- everything on your phone,” Rahul wrote Monday as a tweet-reply to his own post two days ago in which he had asked people, “I’m wondering what you guys are reading these days.”
In a separate development Monday, ‘The Wire’ said Rahul, poll strategist Prashant Kishor and new IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw’s phones were also tapped by using the Pegasus spyware.
‘The Wire’ also said that Ashwini Vaishnaw was targeted for possible surveillance in 2017, when he was neither a minister nor an MP, not even a member of the BJP. He has joined Narendra Modi’s cabinet recently replacing Ravi Shankar Prasad as IT Minister. Vaishnaw is also in charge of the Railways.
The government has, however, dismissed allegations of any kind of surveillance on its part. It said the accusation has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever.
Vaishnaw told Lok Sabha that with several checks and balances being in place, ‘any sort of illegal surveillance’ by unauthorised persons is not possible in India.
Terming it a very serious issue concerning national security, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor demanded an independent judicial or parliamentary committee probe. Since the government has said that it has not done any snooping, this should be probed, Tharoor said.
“I feel that there should be a thorough independent judicial inquiry or a joint parliamentary committee. We cannot just brush it under the carpet,” Tharoor told reporters.
The CPI(M) said that two years ago, the party had raised in Parliament that this ‘dangerous spyware’ was being used in India as revealed by WhatsApp. Under Indian laws, the use of cyber spy software to hack smartphones even by the government is prohibited, the party said, asking under what law the government has undertaken such ‘surveillance activities’ over citizens.
The Trinamool Congress said it will raise the issue in parliament. It came down heavily on the BJP government at the centre over allegations of snooping against party leader Abhishek Banerjee and poll strategist Prashant Kishor. The TMC termed it as ‘an attack on democracy’. It said the revelations prove that the saffron party is suffering from “fear-psychosis” over rise of Abhishek as a national leader.
“This is a black day for democracy. This is shameful that the Union government is using spyware to snoop on the phones of politicians, journalists, activists. Even youth leaders like Abhishek Banerjee are also not spared; our poll strategist Prashant Kishors phone was hacked. This only reflects the authoritarian mindset of this government. The Union government should come clean on it. We condemn it,” the party said in a statement.