Editors Guild asks SC Panel to take Cognisance of NYT Report on Pegasus Spyware

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi accused the Modi government of committing treason.

4 min read
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An investigative report published by The New York Times said that the Indian government, had bought the spyware tool Pegasus in 2017, as part of a larger arms deal with Israel.

The Editors Guild of India has now said that the SC appointed panel for this probe should investigate these claims made by NYT. They also said that the panel should look into whether the spyware has been used against Indian citizens.

“The Guild has written to the committee headed by Justice Raveendran, which was instituted by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India to inquire into and investigate the use of Pegasus spyware against Indian citizens, to take cognisance of the claims made in these reports, and seek responses on affidavit from the Government of India, the CAG, as well as the Secretaries of all the possible ministries that may have been involved with claimed purchase of the spyware."
Press statement issued by the Editors Guild of India.

The press statement also said that the claims made by NYT are in stark contrast to the stance taken by the Indian government so far "which has been and continues to be vague and non committal in its response to these extremely serious allegations that whether they purchased the spyware, and more disturbingly, if it was used against Indian citizens, including journalists and civil society members.”

The Guild has also requested for the proceedings of the SC appointed panel to be kept open to public to ensure complete transparency.

The spyware was produced by the NSO Group, and is capable of conducting remote surveillance of smartphones.

In July 2021, The Washington Post and 16 media partners, including The Wire, led by the Paris-based journalism non-profit Forbidden Stories exposed the usage of Pegasus all over the world.

In India, over 10 cases of Pegasus were detected after the forensic analysis conducted by Amnesty International's Security Lab.

India's purchase of the spyware, the NYT report alleges, was part of a "package of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly $2 billion" between the Indian and the Israeli governments.

The report lays out in detail how, from July 2017, Prime Minister Modi had begun to tighten relations with the Israeli government.

"In July 2017, Narendra Modi, who won office on a platform of Hindu nationalism, became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel. For decades, India had maintained a policy of what it called 'commitment to the Palestinian cause,' and relations with Israel were frosty," the report said.

It also discusses Modi's 'warm' meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"The Modi visit, however, was notably cordial, complete with a carefully staged moment of him and Prime Minister Netanyahu walking together barefoot on a local beach. They had reason for the warm feelings. Their countries had agreed on the sale of a package of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly $2 billion — with Pegasus and a missile system as the centrepieces," the report said.

The NYT report then insinuates that India seemed to reciprocate by voting in Israel's support in the United Nations' Economic and Social Council to deny an observer status to a Palestinian human rights organisation, which would have been the first of its kind.

Netanyahu also officially visited India in January 2018.

While the NYT report discusses how India and other countries, like Poland, allegedly bought and used the spyware, the same investigation also reveals that the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States (US) had "bought and tested NSO software for years with plans to use it for domestic surveillance until the agency finally decided last year not to deploy the tools."

The Supreme Court of India had ordered a probe into the Indian government's alleged use of the spyware, stating that the "state can't get a free pass by saying national security."


'Committed Treason'

Political leaders from all sides of the spectrum have lashed out and questioned the Modi government's alleged purchase of Pegasus software from Israel's NSO Group.

Rahul Gandhi, leader of the Congress Party, tweeted that the "Modi. govt bought Pegasus to spy on our primary democratic institutions, politicians and public. Govt functionaries, opposition leaders, armed forces, judiciary all were targeted by these phone tappings."

He further went to say that the government had committed an act of treason.

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, a Congress party leader in Lok Sabha asked for a Privilege Motion to be initiated in the parliament "against Minister of Information Technology for deliberately misleading the House on Pegasus issue."

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi accused the Modi government of committing treason.

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury's appeal for a privilege motion against the Modi Government.

Photo: The Quint

Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and the General Secretary of the All India Congress Committee, Mallikarjun Kharge, also tweeted saying the illegal snooping amounts to treason.

"No one is above the law and we will ensure that justice is served," he added.

Finally, veteran BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, who is also a Member of Rajya Sabha, questioned his party's and government's silence regarding the NYT report.

"Modi government must rebut New York Times revelations today that It did indeed subscribe by payment from tax payers money of ₹ 300 crores to spyware Pegasus sold by Israeli NSO company," he tweeted

He also made reference to the Watergate Scandal that forced US President Richard Nixon to resign in 1974.

(With inputs from NYT.)

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