Amid the raging political storm over alleged snooping by the government on select journalists and Opposition and ruling party leaders, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said on Monday it hasn’t made any transaction with NSO, the Israeli firm that owns Pegasus, the spyware said to have been used.
The statement marks the government’s first ever response to pointed questions on the snooping allegations.
The ministry made the response in the Rajya Sabha to a query by V Sivadasan, a CPI(M) MP who asked to know if the government had carried out any transaction with NSO Group Technologies and, if yes, the details of it.
The MoD “has not had any transaction with NSO Group Technologies”, was the written response from Ajay Bhat, Minister of State for Defence, said an NDTV report.
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While the government has been maintaining that no illegal surveillance has been conducted in the country under its watch, the Opposition has pooh-poohed this theory. It has sought a “straight answer” on whether or not the government signed up NSO for software to snoop on its citizens, said the report.
The Opposition has been up in arms ever since a global media consortium — which included the Wire in India — had said Indian politicians and journalists were on a surveillance list that used Pegasus. Petitions have been filed with the Supreme Court, seeking an independent probe.
NSO insists that it deals only with vetted governments and their agencies; the Opposition therefore says the Indian government has to respond to the allegations.
Per law, surveillance, which typically calls for a careful process of checks and balances, is handled by the Union Home Ministry and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, and not the MoD, said the NDTV report.
The Centre had earlier described the news reports on the Pegasus leak a ‘fishing expedition’ designed to malign the Indian democracy and its institutions.