Military-grade malware from an Israel-based NSO Group is reportedly being used to spy on journalists, human rights activists and political dissidents. According to an investigation undertaken by a global media consortium based on leaked targeting data, the list includes at least 300 verified mobile phone numbers from India. These belong to two serving ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders and one sitting judge, besides scores of business persons and activists.
"Strong rumour that this evening IST, Washington Post and London Guardian are publishing a report exposing the hiring of an Israeli firm Pegasus, for tapping phones of Modi’s Cabinet Ministers, RSS leaders, SC judges, and journalists. If I get this confirmed I will publish the list," tweeted BJP leader Subramanian Swamy on Sunday morning.
Hours later, as the news was verified and made headlines around the world, the Rajya Sabha leader brought up several pertinent question. Urging the Home Minister to issue a clarification, he also wondered who had financed the project and why. Questioned by another Twitter user, he pointed out that the Israeli company "has declared that they do contracts only with governments."
With many on social media recalling the infamous Watergate scandal that former US President Richard Nixon had found himself embroiled in, Swamy had a warning for the administration.
"It will be sensible if the Home Minister tells Parliament that Modi Government has nor had any involvement with the Israeli company which tapped and taped our telephones. Otherwise like Watergate truth will trickle out and hurt BJP by halal route," he cautioned on Monday morning.
The government, however, dismissed allegations of any kind of surveillance on its part on specific people, saying it "has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever". Asserting that "India is a robust democracy that is committed to ensuring the right to privacy to all its citizens as a fundamental right", the government dismissed the media report as an attempt to playing "the role of an investigator, prosecutor as well as jury".
(With inputs from agencies)