Hours after IT and Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw put up a stout defence of the government, trashing reports of the use of Pegasus software to snoop on Indians, it was revealed that the minister himself was a potential target. His name figured in the second set of revelations by a group of media websites investigating the matter, reports thewire.in. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is also on the list, according to the report.
Addressing the first day of the Monsoon session of Parliament earlier in the day, Vaishnaw said the allegations levelled just ahead of the Monsoon session of Parliament are aimed at maligning Indian democracy.
In a suo motu statement in Lok Sabha, Vaishnaw said that with several checks and balances being in place, "any sort of illegal surveillance" by unauthorised persons is not possible in India.
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".