After all hell broke loose in the aftermath of the revelations over the use of Israeli snooping spyware on high-profile citizens in India, a stream of senior political leaders, the Opposition and election strategist Prashant Kishor, have hit out at the government for such “dirty” and “worthless” acts of spying.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, whose JDU is an ally in the BJP-led NDA government, called the entire Pegasus spy scandal as “dirty” and “worthless”, said media reports.
NDTV reported that Bihar CM said that it is not good to disturb anyone like this. “All this is dirty. This is worthless. All this new technology that has come…and its misuse…the effect it has…people are troubled…their work gets hindered.” Kumar was talking to the media on Monday (July 19) after his Janata Durbar in Patna.
Further, Prashant Kishor, the mastermind of multiple winning election campaigns strategies against the BJP, revealed that his handset continued to be hacked though he had changed it many times. “I changed my handset five times, the hacking contines,” he told NDTV. Moreover, the forensic tests that were conducted on Kishor’s phone showed that it was compromised as recently as July 14.
According to several cybersecurity analysts and experts, the only way to get completely rid of Pegasus is to discard the phone that has been affected.
The Pegasus malware which belongs to a software firm, NSO Group, is capable of switching on a phone’s camera or microphone, and harvesting its data. It has been in the eye of the storm since 2016 when they were accused of spying on a dissident in the United Arab Emirates. Again in late 2019, it was revealed that the spyware was used for snooping on journalists and human rights activists across the globe, including in India.
On Sunday evening a number of news websites, including the Wire, claimed that over 10 governments are using this spyware to spy on journalists, activists and other key media personalities.
In India, according to the reports, more than 300 verified mobile phone numbers, including of two serving ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders and one sitting judge besides scores of business persons and activists in India could have been targeted for hacking through this Israeli spyware sold only to government agencies.
These phone numbers had been found on a leaked database of 50,000 numbers which were the targets for hacking with the Israeli spyware Pegasus. This database was first accessed by Paris-based media non-profit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International and later shared with The Wire, The Guardian, Die Zeit, Washington Post, Suddeutsche Zeitung, Le Monde and 10 other Mexican, Arab and European news organisations.
Sack Home Minister Amit Shah: Congress
Accusing the government of “treason” and compromising national security over the Pegasus spyware issue, the Congress meanwhile has demanded the sacking of Home Minister Amit Shah and a probe into the “role of Prime Minister” Narendra Modi in the matter.
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said Shah should immediately resign as he “does not deserve” to occupy the position he holds. Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said, “Modiji promotes digital India, but what we are seeing is Surveillance India”. Accusing the Modi government of murdering the Constitution, law and dismantling national security, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said it is guilty of “treason”.
“The Modi government is the deployer and executor of this illegal and unconstitutional snooping and spying racket through Israeli surveillance software Pegasus,” he said.
Attempt to malign democracy, says Centre
The government has, however, dismissed media reports as “not having any concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever”. Responding to the allegations, information technology and communications minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said on Monday that these allegations were being levelled just before the monsoon session of Parliament to “malign Indian democracy”.
In a suo motu statement in Lok Sabha, Vaishnaw said that “any sort of illegal surveillance” was impossible by unauthorised persons in India with all the checks and balances in place in the country. He criticised the fact that a highly sensational story was released by a web portal coincidentally a day before the monsoon session of the parliament, said a rediff.com report.
He added that in the past similar claims had been made regarding the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp. Those reports had no factual basis and were categorically denied by all parties…. “The press report of July 18, 2021, also appeared to be an attempt to malign the Indian democracy and a well-established institution,” the minister said.