Over the past few days, a consortium of international websites has revealed that more than 50,000 phone numbers were targeted by a spyware created by NSO Group, an Israeli software company. On the list were 300 verified phone numbers in India, including those of ministers, opposition leaders, journalists and activists.
As names started trickling out -- Rahul Gandhi, minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, poll strategist Prashant Kishor, Trinamool leader and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee's nephew Abhishek Banerjee-- the issue made it to Parliament, social media and prime time debates prompting a quick and vehement denial by the government. Interestingly, the day IT minister Vaishnaw defended the government on this issue in Lok Sabha, his name figured on the list of potential spying targets.
What did the report reveal
According to the report, forensic tests confirmed the presence of Pegasus spyware on some devices. Those on the list of potential targets included journalists at Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Wire, The Indian Express, News18, India Today, etc, the report added.
The report claimed that most of the journalists were targeted between 2018 and 2019, in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The report further added that the NSO Group, which sells Pegasus, has claimed that it only offers its spyware to "vetted governments".
Centre's quick response
Within a few minutes after the report, the Centre responded and said the allegations have no concrete basis. "India is a robust democracy that is committed to ensuring the right to privacy to all its citizens as a fundamental right," The government added the news report appears to be a fishing expedition and was based on conjectures and exaggerations to malign the Indian democracy and its institutions.
Who is on the list
Not just journalists, more than 300 Indians, including two union ministers, three opposition leaders and scores of business persons and activists in India have been targeted. According to the second revelations on Monday, names of former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, election strategist Prashant Kishor, Mamata Banerjee's nephew Abhishek Banerjee, IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, minister of state for Jal Shakti Prahlad Singh Patel, personal secretary to Vasundhara Raje Scindia and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Pravin Togadia are on the list.
Israeli firm NSO Group says report is 'false, misleading'
The Israel-based NSO Group said the allegations on it are false and misleading. The group released a statement and said the report by Forbidden Stories raises serious doubts and is full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories. There is no reliability of the report.
IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw denies spying on people
In his first-ever speech as IT and Communications Minister in the Parliament, Ashwini Vaishnaw stoutly dismissed media reports on the use of Pegasus software to spy on Indians.
Congress demands HM Amit Shah's resignation
Accusing the government of "treason", the Congress on Monday demanded resignation of Home Minister Amit Shah.
BJP says no evidence to link it with govt
The BJP slammed Congress and said there was no evidence to link the snooping list to either the ruling party or the Modi government.
'Aap Chronology Samajhiye': Amit Shah
After Congress demanded Union Home Minister Amit Shah resignation, he said the report the disrupters for the obstructers do not like India to progress.
Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha adjourned
Tuesday proceedings of both the houses were disrupted due to the Pegasus spyware controversy. Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha was adjourned three times during the day.
Spyware maker says reported Indian targets not 'an NSO list'
The maker of the spyware programme, used to allegedly snoop on Indian, said that the alleged surveillance list by the government was not theirs. The NSO Group, an Israeli technology firm that developed the Pegasus spyware programme, told NDTV that the company is "not related to the list published by Forbidden Stories."