Protests erupt in Indian Parliament over spyware scandal
New Delhi – India’s parliament erupted in protest on Tuesday when opposition lawmakers accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of using military-grade spyware to monitor political opponents, journalists and activists. ۔
The meeting was repeatedly interrupted when opposition lawmakers chanted slogans against the Modi government and demanded an inquiry into how spyware, known as Pegasus, was used in India.
“This is a threat to national security,” Kapil Sibal, an official with the opposition Congress party, told a news conference.
The protest follows an investigation by a global media consortium published on Sunday. Based on the targeting data, these findings provide evidence that the Israeli-based NSO Group, the world’s most notorious hacker for hired company’s spyware, allegedly had devices targeting various targets. Was used for infiltration, which included journalists, activists and politicians. Opponents in 50 countries
Newly-appointed Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vishnu on Monday dismissed the allegations as “extremely sensational”, “over-the-top” and “an attempt to discredit Indian democracy”.
Minutes after his statement in Parliament, India’s independent The Wire website – part of a media consortium – revealed that his name had also been added to the list in 2017 as a possible surveillance target. At that time, he was not a member of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. Time
The NSO group says it only sells its spies to “veiled government agencies” for use against terrorists and major criminals. The Indian government has so far questioned whether he is a client of the group.
A list of more than 50,000 cell phone numbers was obtained by Paris-based non-profit journalism stories and human rights group Amnesty International, which was later shared with 16 news organizations.
According to The Wire, the journalists were able to identify more than a thousand people in 50 countries who were allegedly selected by NSO clients for possible surveillance, including 300 verified Indian numbers.
The leak – and how it was verified – was not disclosed. Amnesty International said the presence of a phone number in the data did not mean there was an attempt to hack a device.
In India, the probe has sparked outrage among officials.
Home Minister Amit Shah called the probe “an attempt to derail India’s development through their conspiracies” and said it was time to “disrupt Parliament”.
Former IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said there was “no evidence to link the Indian government or the BJP” to the allegations. Prasad called it an international conspiracy to discredit India.
Rights groups say the findings reinforce allegations that not only sovereign governments but also democratic governments, including India, have used spyware for political purposes.
It has also heightened fears of undermining democratic support and civil liberties under Modi. Recently, the Freedom House in Washington dropped India, the world’s most populous democracy, from “free” to “partially free.”
Rahul Gandhi, the most influential Indian name ever, was Modi’s biggest challenge in the 2014 and 2019 general elections. While running in the election, two of her phone numbers were used between mid-2018 and mid-2019.
According to The Wire, Gandhi no longer had the tools, so it was not possible to analyze whether he had been hacked. They also found at least nine people in Gandhi’s circle.
The list includes Ganguly King, a highly skilled virologist, Pacific Teenager, a longtime political strategist who helped Modi come to power in 2014, but now one of his strongest opponents, and India. Former ECP official Ashok Laos is also in the list.
The phone numbers of a Supreme Court staffer who accused former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment in 2019 also appeared in the data just days after his allegations were recorded. Gogoi was later acquitted of the charges, which he denied.