Govt should answer if there was authorised interception through Pegasus, Tharoor tells TNM

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, who heads the Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT, spoke to TNM on the new revelations on Pegasus.
File image of Congress leader Shashi Tharoor as he addresses a press conference at AICC headquarters
File image of Congress leader Shashi Tharoor as he addresses a press conference at AICC headquarters

The sensational investigation that revealed over 300 verified numbers —  including those belonging to two ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders and one sitting judge, besides scores of businesspersons and activists in India — could have been possible targets of Israeli spyware Pegasus, reached the Parliament on Monday, with many opposition parties seeking a thorough investigation into the issue and calling for the sacking of Home Minister Amit Shah. While the Union government has dismissed the reports and called it an “attempt to malign Indian democracy,” the Opposition has asked the government to come clean on whether it asked Israel’s NSO Group, which created Pegasus and only deals with vetted governments, to snoop on people in India. 

The Pegasus issue is not new in India — a similar instance of alleged snooping via the spyware had surfaced in 2019, when the phones of those accused in Elgar Parishad Bhima Koregaon case appeared to have been targeted. At the time, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information and Technology, had taken cognisance of the issue. According to the Lok Sabha website, the last sitting that the Committee had on the issue was on December 21, 2019.

Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram Shashi Tharoor, who heads the Parliamentary Standing Committee, spoke to TNM on the new revelations and what they mean. “The agenda item is still alive and the matter can be pursued further,” Tharoor said. 

Responding to the Union government’s stand that there has been no unauthorised interception, Shashi Tharoor said that the government should answer whether an authorised interception was ordered. 

“The government says there has been no unauthorised interception. The question remains whether there was authorised interception, and how it could have been authorised when no national security grounds appear relevant in many of the cases of opposition politicians and journalists,” Tharoor told TNM. 

Earlier, speaking on the newsbreak, Tharoor said since the government has said that it has not done any snooping, this should be probed. "I feel that there should be a thorough independent judicial inquiry or one by a joint parliamentary committee. We cannot just brush it under the carpet," he told reporters.

Tharoor had earlier said that if the government had asked the NSO Group to target individuals it is bad, but if somebody unauthorized did it, that's worse, and called for an independent judicial probe into the matter. 

“The government of India has denied resorting to unauthorised surveillance. The question this raises is, if Pegasus is only sold to governments, which other govts (China/Pakistan?) are using it to snoop on prominent Indian citizens? Shouldn't the authorities call for an independent investigation?” Tharoor tweeted.

Though the Union government has dismissed the snooping charges, the allegations reached the Parliament on the first day of the Monsoon session. Union IT Minister Vaishnaw made a suo motu statement in the Lok Sabha, to say that the media reports on alleged snooping published a day before the start of the session "cannot be a coincidence" and stressed there is "no substance" behind the sensationalism.

Incidentally, just a short while later, it was revealed that his phone number was among those found on the Pegasus database. In addition to Vaishnaw, Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi, Prahlad Singh Patel, former election commissioner Ashok Lavasa, poll strategist Prashant Kishor were among the politicians whose numbers were listed as potential targets for hacking, the consortium reported.

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