Following hours of speculation regarding the Pegasus Report, The Wire as part of an investigation has revealed that at least 40 Indian journalists from across media houses were on a list of potential targets for surveillance, carried out through a systematic hacking of their devices using the controversial Israeli spyware Pegasus.
In a detailed report, the Wire also added that forensic tests confirmed that a number of the potential victims had indeed been spied upon by unidentified sources via the Pegasus app.
The report also added that along with the 40 journalists, "three major opposition figures, one constitutional authority, two serving ministers in the Narendra Modi government, current and former heads and officials of security organisations and scores of businesspersons" were part of the list of potential or past victims.
The report was published by The Wire news portal from India as also 16 other international publications including Washington Post, The Guardian and Le Monde, as media partners to an investigation conducted by Paris-based media non-profit organisation Forbidden Stories and rights group Amnesty International into a leaked list of more than 50,000 phone numbers from across the world that are believed to have been the target of surveillance through Pegasus software of Israeli surveillance company NSO Group.
The Wire also noted that among the list of phone numbers in the Israeli spyware's database was one that belonged to a sitting Supreme Court judge. However, the platform refused to name them as they had not been able to confirm if they had indeed been using the number at the time of the hack.
Who is on the list?
The Wire said the numbers of those in the database from India include over 40 journalists, three major opposition figures, one constitutional authority, two serving ministers in the Narendra Modi government, current and former heads and officials of security organisations and scores of businesspersons, as also a sitting judge.
Among the names of journalists on the leaked list was Hindustan Times executive editor Shishir Gupta and other journalists such as those working with media houses such as Indian Express, Network18, India Today and The Hindu among others.
The report came just a day before the start of the Monsoon Session of Parliament and could see the matter being raised in two houses, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, beginning tomorrow. Some opposition leaders are also expected to give notices for adjournment or debate on this issue.
Govt of India's response:
In a communication to Washington Post India bureau chief Joanna Slater, Dr Rajendra Kumar, Additional Secretary of Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said: "India is a robust democracy that is committed to ensuring the right to privacy to all its citizens as a fundamental right. In furtherance of this commitment, it has also introduced the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 and the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, to protect the personal data of individuals and to empower users of social media platforms."
"The commitment to free speech as a fundamental right is the cornerstone of India’s democratic system. We have always strived to attain an informed citizenry with an emphasis on a culture of open dialogue. However, the questionnaire sent to the Government of India indicates that the story being crafted is one that is not only bereft of facts but also founded in pre-conceived conclusions. It seems you are trying to play the role of an investigator, prosecutor as well as jury," he added.
"Considering the fact that answers to the queries posed have already been in public domain for a long time, it also indicates poorly conducted research and lack of due diligence by the esteemed media organizations involved."
"Government of India’s response to a Right to Information application about the use of Pegasus has been prominently reported by media and is in itself sufficient to counter any malicious claims about the alleged association between the Government of India and Pegasus," he further said.
(With inputs from PTI)