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Rahul Gandhi Was 'Potential' Spyware Target Ahead of 2019 Polls: Report

The revelation comes amid several reports of alleged snooping attempts being made with the help of Pegasus Spyware.

Updated
India
3 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>File image of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.</p></div>
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Amid a series of reports revealing the possibility of several high-profile journalists, ministers, and Opposition leaders being targeted by the Israel-made spyware Pegasus, a report by an Indian news portal has claimed that former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, too, might have been targeted.

The Wire and its media partners in the 'Pegasus Project' reported that at least two mobile phone accounts used by Gandhi were among the several Indian contacts listed as 'potential targets'.

Other than Gandhi, numbers of five of his friends and acquaintances were also reportedly targeted.

Details of Possible Spyware Attack on Rahul Gandhi, His Aides

The numbers that are believed to have been targeted from mid-2018 to mid-2019 have since been given up by Gandhi and he no longer has the handsets that he used at the time, according to the report.

None of the five people close to Gandhi who were targeted are reported to be political or public personalities.

The report further said that without forensics, "It is not possible to conclusively establish whether Pegasus was deployed against Gandhi."

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Who Are the Aides That Were Targeted?

The Wire said that it has withheld the identities of the five acquaintances targeted for reasons of privacy, as requested by them. Three out of the five individuals agreed to speak to The Wire, out of which two are women. One of the five people is still using the handset that they used back then.

Other than the five unnamed acquaintances, the phone numbers of Gandhi's two close aides, Alankar Sawai and Sachin Rao, are also present in the database, according to the report.

While Rao is a member of the Congress Working Committee, Sawai works with Gandhi’s office.

Both Sawai and Rao do not use the handsets that they used in the period of 2018-2019, when they are believed to have been targeted.

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What Did Rahul Gandhi Say?

The Wire reached out to Gandhi who told the organisation that he had received suspicious WhatsApp messages in the past and that he frequently changed numbers and phones to make it difficult to be targeted.

“Targeted surveillance of the type you describe whether in regard to me, other leaders of the opposition or indeed any law-abiding citizen of India is illegal and deplorable. If your information is correct, the scale and nature of surveillance you describe goes beyond an attack on the privacy of individuals. It is an attack on the democratic foundations of our country. It must be thoroughly investigated and those responsible be identified and punished," he told The Wire.

Earlier in the day, reacting to reports released on Sunday on journalists being allegedly snooped upon, Gandhi tweeted to say, "We know what he’s been reading- everything on your phone!"

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Pegasus 'Snoopgate'

Rahul Gandhi's name is among the hundreds of Indians that are believed to be either targets or 'potential' targets to spying using Pegasus, a product of Israeli cyberweapons company NSO Group. However, the the presence of the numbers in the 'Pegasus Project' does not confirm that the device was 'infected with Pegasus or subject to an attempted hack,' The Wire has said.

Along with India, the list also has over 1,500 names of potential targets from across countries like Mexico, Qatar, UAE, India, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, France and Hungary.

NSO Group, the parent company of the spyware denied that the leaked list was linked to the functioning of its software. It also said that people in the list were not targeted by the governments using Pegasus but were maybe a part of a larger list of numbers that other customers of theirs used for different purposes.

While the Opposition tried to corner the government over the issue of the first day of the Monsoon Session of the Parliament on Monday, the government has denied any involvement in the alleged snooping.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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