IT Minister says no substance in Pegasus project report, calls it attempt to malign Indian democracy

·3-min read
Union IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw (Photo/ANI)
Union IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw (Photo/ANI)

New Delhi [India], July 19 (ANI): Union IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw on Monday said there is 'no substance' in the media report regarding the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp, adding that the report was an attempt to malign Indian democracy and its well-established institutions.

Speaking in Lok Sabha, Vaishnaw said that it can't be a coincidence that the report appeared a day before the commencement of the monsoon session of Parliament.

"A highly sensational story was published by a web portal last night. Many over-the-top allegations were made around this story. The press reports appeared a day before the monsoon session of Parliament. This can't be a coincidence," said the Minister about the Pegasus Project.

He said that in the past too, similar claims were made regarding the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp and those reports too had no factual basis and were denied by all parties.

"Press reports of July 18 also appear to be an attempt to malign Indian democracy and its well-established institutions," Vaishnaw said.

Requesting members of the House to examine issues on facts and logic, the Minister noted that the basis of this report is that there is a consortium that has got access to a leaked database of 50,000 phone numbers.

"We can't fault those who haven't read the news story in detail and I request all members of House to examine issues on facts and logic. The basis of this report is that there is a consortium that has got access to a leaked database of 50,000 phone numbers. The allegation is that individuals linked to these phone numbers are being spied upon," he said.

However, Vaishnaw noted the report said that the presence of a phone number in the data does not reveal whether a device was infected by Pegasus or subjected to an attempted hack.

"Without subjecting the phone to this technical analysis, it's not possible to conclusively state whether it witnessed an attempted hack or successfully compromised. The report itself clarifies that the presence of a number in the list doesn't amount to snooping," he observed.

The Minister said that any form of illegal surveillance isn't possible with "checks and balances in our laws and robust institutions."

"In India, there's a well-established procedure through which lawful interception of electronic communication is carried out for purpose of national security. Requests for lawful interceptions of electronic communication are made as per relevant rules under provisions of Sec 5(2) of Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and Sec 69 of Information Technology Act 2000. Each case of interception is approved by the competent authority," he assured.

Vaishnaw added that when the issue is looked through the 'prism of logic', "it clearly emerges that there is no substance, whatsoever, behind this sensationalism".

The names of over 40 Indian journalists appeared on the leaked list of potential targets for surveillance by an unidentified agency using Pegasus spyware, according to a report published in The Wire on Sunday.

According to the report, the journalists who were targeted work for some news organisations in the country including Hindustan Times, The Hindu, India Today, Indian Express and Network18. Many of them cover matters related to Defence, Home Ministry, Election Commission and Kashmir among others. (ANI)

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