Naidu govt denies trying to buy phone tapping equipment, Wikileaks tell a different tale

news Monday, July 13, 2015 - 05:30
  On June 11, 2015, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief and Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu had upped the ante in the cash-for-vote scam and paid a visit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi. The TDP chief complained to the Prime Minister about Telangana tapping the phones of many TDP MLAs and other leaders. One day after the incident, on June 12, if Wikileak's recently released chain of e-mails are to be believed, 'Ortus Consulting,' a Hyderabad based firm sent an e-mail to Milan based IT company 'Hacking team' to enquire about "Cellular interception hardware solutions," for the intelligence branch of the AP police. On July 9, WikiLeaks released over a million emails from Hacking Team on its website with thousands of emails between the Hacking Group and governments of various countries including many Indian government agencies. The e-mail sent by Ortus Consulting to Hacking Team was also part of this 400 GB worth of e-mails and source codes dumped on the internet. The trail of their dialogues start from 2011 but the recent ones, come more into view, as it is in the backdrop of the cash-for-vote scam. Ortus IT Consulting Private Limited, registered on 21 December, 2006 has three active Directors/Partners out of which Prabhakar Reddy Kasu (who sent the mail) is the CEO of the company. The Italy based Hacking Team on the other hand, is known to be one of the most notorious providers of surveillance and intrusion software in the technology world. Double standards by Naidu? The emails have come out as the AP government has been screaming their lungs out about their Telangana counterparts tapping into their phones illegally without permission.  In an interview with Economic Times, Naidu said "I am a chief minister, not a terrorist, black marketer, or a security risk for the country, what grounds have they used to tap my phone? Tapping of phones is a serious business and has to be authenticated by requisite authorities on valid grounds. This is just illegal."  The e-mail beside asking for tapping equipment, also asks for "costs for 25 and 50 mobile licenses," to which "roughly between 1 and 1.2 million US dollars" is the answer. A few emails that were sent later in the last week of June indicated that Prabhakar and members of the Hacking Team were to give a demonstration to the AP intelligence officials in Hyderabad on July 7, 2015. However, there were no emails to reveal whether the scheduled meeting took place. What is each party claiming? Though initially distancing themselves from commenting on the issue, the TDP has maintained that all claims are false. Speaking to the Times of India, AP finance minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu said "The AP government never tried to purchase any phone tapping material or spy software from any international or national company. The emails purportedly received from WikiLeaks are misleading and the state government will take necessary action against those who are spreading such malicious news to defame the TDP government." While the TRS party is yet to make a statement on the issue, Congress MLA C. Ramachandraiah told TV9 that "Chandrababu Naidu is not new to these kind of activities. He would not have done that if he did not have the intention to." A report in the Deccan Chronicle adds that the Telangana Advocates’ Joint Action Committee on Saturday lodged a complaint with the Hyderabad West Zone police against Naidu for his attempts to buy phone tapping equipment. No case has been booked so far and action will be taken only after a legal opinion is sought on the petition. Meanwhile, Ortus Consulting has released a press release claiming that "no one from the AP government or intelligence" approached him for any telephone tapping equipment. The release also goes on to add that the "reference to AP was only an intent on approaching southern states for giving presentations on various solutions."

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