IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw on Monday said in the Lok Sabha that the ‘Pegasus Project’ was an attempt to malign our democracy and its well-established institutions.
“A highly sensational story was published by a web portal last night. Many over-the-top allegations made around this story. The press reports appeared a day before the monsoon session of Parliament. This can’t be a coincidence…In the past, similar claims were made regarding the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp. Those reports had no factual basis and were denied by all parties. Press reports of 18 July 2021 also appear to be an attempt to malign Indian democracy and its well-established institutions.” he said.
He added, "With checks and balances in place, illegal surveillance not possible."
The statement assumes significance in the backdrop of opposition parties creating a ruckus over the issue in both the Houses of Parliament on the first day of the Monsoon session.
The minister made this statement in response to media reports that spyware Pegasus was being used to conduct surveillance on several Indians, including political leaders, government officials and journalists.
"A highly sensational story was published by a web portal yesterday night.... The press report appeared a day before the Monsoon session of the Parliament.
"This cannot be a coincidence. In the past similar claims were made regarding the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp. Those reports have 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.
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 an Israeli spyware sold only to government agencies, an international media consortium reported on Sunday.
The government, however, had dismissed allegations of any kind of surveillance on its part on specific people, saying it "has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever".
On Monday, following protests by the Opposition parties, both the Houses of the Parliament were adjourned. The uproar happened while PM Modi was introducing the new ministers. Raising an objection to this, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said, “Congress’s behaviour in Lok Sabha is sad, unfortunate and unhealthy.”
Earlier, PM Modi, while marking the beginning of the Monsoon Session on Monday, said he hoped that all issues will be discussed in a healthy manner in the Parliament. “I hope every issue related to the pandemic and our fight against it would be discussed. I would like all floor leaders to attend a session at 4 pm tomorrow to have a presentation on the pandemic situation. It can be discussed on the floor of the House too,” he added.