The chaos over the New York Times (NYT) report that claimed that Modi government bought the Pegasus spyware as a part of $2 billion arms deal in 2017 with Israel may not end here. The Opposition is likely to corner the government during the Budget Session as well.
The “countries (India and Israel) had agreed on the sale of a package of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly $2 billion — with Pegasus and a missile system as the centrepieces,” stated the NYT report.
The spyware produced by the NSO Group is capable of conducting remote surveillance of smartphones.
The opposition came out heavily on the government following the report.
Congress MP Rahul Gandhi tweeted, “Modi Govt bought Pegasus to spy on our primary democratic institutions, politicians and public. Govt functionaries, opposition leaders, armed forces, judiciary all were targeted by these phone tappings. This is treason.”
However, refuting the charges, Union Minister General VK Singh, called the NYT “supari media”.
“Can you trust NYT?? They are known ‘Supari Media’,” Singh wrote on twitter.
The NYT report underlines how Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been strengthening relations with Israel.
“In July 2017, Narendra Modi, who won office on a platform of Hindu nationalism, became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel. For decades, India had maintained a policy of what it called “commitment to the Palestinian cause,” and relations with Israel were frosty. The Modi visit, however, was notably cordial, complete with a carefully staged moment of him and Prime Minister Netanyahu walking together barefoot on a local beach. They had reason for the warm feelings,” the NYT report said.
The report also lays out how other countries like Poland too acquired and used the spyware. It also stated that the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States had “bought a version of Pegasus, NSO’s premier spying tool.” It further mentioned that “for nearly a decade, the Israeli firm had been selling its surveillance software on a subscription basis to law-enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world, promising that it could do what no one else — not a private company, not even a state intelligence service — could do: consistently and reliably crack the encrypted communications of any iPhone or Android smartphone.”
On the other hand, the Editors Guild of India said that the Supreme Court selected panel for this investigation should probe the claims made by NYT.
“The Guild has written to the committee headed by Justice Raveendran, which was instituted by the Supreme Court to inquire into and investigate the use of Pegasus spyware against India citizens, to take cognizance of the claims made in these reports, and seek responses on affidavit from the government, the CAG, as well as the Secretaries of all the possible ministries that may have been involved with claimed purchase of the spyware,” the body said in a statement.
The guild also mentioned that the panel should seek to understand whether the spyware has been used against Indian citizens.
The statement further points out that the claims made by NYT is at contrast from the stand taken by the Indian government till now “which has been and continues to be vague and non-committal in its response to these extremely serious allegations that whether they purchased the spyware, and more disturbingly, if it was used against Indian citizens, including journalists and civil society members.”
The guild has put forth the request that the proceedings of the SC appointed panel to be open to the public to maintain full transparency.