'Bereft of Facts': Govt Denies Role in Pegasus Spyware Op

A report reveals that an Israel-made spyware Pegasus has been used to target over 40 Indian journalists.

2 min read

Responding to a report on a leaked list that reveals that an Israel-made spyware Pegasus is believed to have targeted at least 40 Indian journalists, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) alleged that the report was not only 'bereft of facts but also founded in pre-conceived conclusions'.

The report published by The Wire, said that the 'leaked data includes the numbers of top journalists at big media houses like the Hindustan Times, including executive editor Shishir Gupta, India Today, Network18, The Hindu and Indian Express'.

What The IT Ministry Has Said

"The allegations regarding government surveillance on specific people has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever," the government said in its response to the media houses investigating the matter, on Saturday, 17 July, a day before the reports appeared in the news.

Commenting on the reportage, MeitY further stated, "Considering the fact that answers to the queries posed have already been in public domain for a long time, it also indicates poorly conducted research and lack of due diligence by the esteemed media organisations involved."

In 2019 – when Pegasus had appeared in the news for reportedly spying on as many as 121 Indians, including several lawyers and activists – the Centre had denied any allegations of illegal snooping on its part, in a similar fashion.

While the IT Ministry had not repudiated its employment of the spyware at the time, it had said, “The government operates strictly as per provisions of law and laid down protocols. There are adequate safeguards to ensure that no innocent citizen is harassed or his privacy breached.”

It had further claimed that the allegations levelled were 'an attempt to malign the government'.

Spouting the same sentiment and alluding to its 2019 statement, MeitY, led by the newly-appointed Ashwini Vaishnaw, said, "India’s Minister of Electronics & IT has also spoken in detail, including in the Parliament, that there has been no unauthorised interception by Government agencies."

"This news report, thus, also appears to be a similar fishing expedition, based on conjectures and exaggerations to malign the Indian democracy and its institutions," the response stated.

Further, the government refrained from confirming its employment of Pegasus for surveillance. "Government of India’s response to a Right to Information application about the use of Pegasus has been prominently reported by media and is in itself sufficient to counter any malicious claims about the alleged association between the Government of India and Pegasus," it said.

In November 2019, former home secretary GK Pillai had told The Quint that he had been aware that Israeli tech firm NSO, which owns Pegasus, had been operating in India – and that it had sold spying software to private firms and individuals in the country.

He also confirmed that Indian government agencies have bought spyware in the past from private foreign tech firms like NSO. In fact, he had said, “It is quite common.”

(With inputs from The Wire)

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