No Transaction With NSO Group: Defence Ministry Amid Pegasus Row
Israeli company NSO Group is behind the Pegasus spyware, which has created a huge storm over potential surveillance.
The Quint DAILY
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The Defence Ministry has not had any transaction with NSO Group Technologies, Minister of State (MoS) for Defence Ajay Bhatt said in a written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, 9 August.
The answer was in response to a question by CPI(M) leader and Rajya Sabha MP V Sivadasan, who asked whether the government had carried out any transaction with the NSO Group Technologies, and if so, the details thereof.
To this, the answer by MoS Ajay Bhatt said, “Ministry of Defence has not had any transaction with NSO Group Technologies.” On the question seeking details, the reply said, “Does not arise.”
However, it is important to note that it is the Home Ministry and not the Ministry of Defence which provides the clearance necessary for the government to carry out surveillance.
Speaking to the The Quint in 2019, former home secretary GK Pillai had said "Surveillance is done only when requisition is made to the home secretary through intelligence reports and the he/she gives a clearance for surveillance. State governments can also authorise their own police sources to do surveillance."
Further, Sivadasan sought information regarding the budgetary allocation to the ministry is the last three financial years, the amount it spent as well the total amount spent by the ministry in the purchases from outside the country in those years.
The government apprised that it was allocated Rs 4,04,364.71cr, Rs 4,31,010.79cr, and Rs 4,71,378.00cr in the years 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2020-21 respectively. As per the document, this is 15%-16% of the Union Budget.
Out of this, the Defence Ministry spent Rs 45,705.57 cr, 47,961.47 cr, and Rs 53,118.58 cr on foreign procurements.
Significance of NSO Group Technologies
Israeli technology company NSO Group is behind the Pegasus spyware, which has created a huge storm after the publication of reports by various media portals pointing out how politicians, journalists, and activists may have been the targets of surveillance using the spyware.
Many of the potential targets mentioned in the ‘Pegasus Project’ series of investigative reports are from India, including Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, several journalists, etc.
On 19 July, the NSO Group had put out a statement denying all snooping allegations and stated that its programme was for 'vetted governments for the sole purpose of saving lives through preventing crime and terror acts'.
Parliament Witnesses Deadlock
Following the shocking reports, the Parliament witnessed repeated disruptions since the commencement of the ongoing Monsoon Session, with several leaders of Opposition parties censuring the Centre for not holding a discussion on the spying allegations.
Last week, prominent Opposition leaders, including NCP chief Sharad Pawar, TMC leader Derek O’Brien, and Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut put out a statement saying that the Opposition parties 'stand firm and united' on their demand for a discussion on the Pegasus issues in both the Houses of the Parliament.
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