NSO Officials Came to Chhattisgarh Under BJP Rule: CM Bhupesh Baghel
Bhupesh Baghel said, “When other countries have started investigations, why can’t India? This is a democracy.”
As the Pegasus Project continues to unravel the extent of possible surveillance done on Indian journalists, politicians, activists, among others, Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel on Wednesday, 21 July, claimed that the Israeli cyberweapons company NSO, which manufactures the Pegasus spyware, had visited the state under BJP rule.
Baghel said that though NSO representatives had definitely visited the state, while Raman Singh was the chief minister, who they met and what dealt they established is veiled.
While addressing a press conference in Raipur, Baghel said that his government will constitute a committee to probe the case.
“Raman Singh has to explain what the deal was about and whom they met”, Baghel said in the press conference.
What Happened In 2019?
Two years back, when WhatsApp had informed several Dalit rights lawyers and activists of the spyware attack that had targeted them in 2019, Chhattisgarh government had constituted a committee to probe illegal surveillance using Pegasus spyware.
A three-member committee, which included the Principal Secretary (Home), Raipur IG and Secretary, Department of Public Relations, was constituted to probe the matter. However, the government did not come out with any finding thus far.
Strengthening the Opposition attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government over the leak of lists with phone numbers of possible surveillance targets, Baghel demanded that the Union government should come clean and set up an enquiry.
If Other Countries Can Investigate, Why Can’t India?
Pointing out that since the NSO Group has clarified that they only sell to “vetted governments”, the government of India should clarify if there was a deal or not.
“If there was a deal, then how much was it for? With whom was the deal made?” Baghel asked.
He added, “Ministers, opposition leaders, journalists, activists are being spied on. What is the reason for such surveillance? The whole country deserved to know this.”
Referring to the probe opened in France over the alleged surveillance done through Pegasus, Baghel said in Hindi, “when other countries have instituted investigations, why can’t India? This is a democracy afterall.”
A report published by an Indian online news portal on Sunday, 18 July, revealed that Israel-made spyware Pegasus was believed to have been used to snoop on at least 300 Indian phone numbers, including those of over 40 senior journalists, opposition leaders, government officials and rights activists.
The leaked list of names was provided to The Wire and 15 other international news organisations by France-based media non-profit, Forbidden Stories, and Amnesty International, as part of a collaborative investigation called the 'Pegasus Project'.
Pegasus exploits a vulnerability via WhatsApp to get into a user's device and gains access to all the apps on the phone, including the camera and microphone.
The spyware contains code that is capable of spying, collecting data, and reporting back on what the user does on the device – everything; calls, emails, texts, location, app data, etc. It remotely collects all the information about a target's device, wherever they are.
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