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Inquiry panel seeks phone numbers snooped on

Supreme Court committee monitoring Pegasus matter; report awaited: Govt source

The Congress says it intends to raise the issue in the budget session starting next week
The Supreme Court of India
The Supreme Court of India
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Our Bureau, PTI   |   New Delhi   |   Published 29.01.22, 06:32 PM

A government source on Saturday said that the matter related to Pegasus software is being monitored by a committee under the Supreme Court and its report is awaited.

The source said that the inquiry committee - set up under the supervision of retired Supreme Court judge R V Raveendran - has also published a newspaper advertisement on January 2 calling for submission of phones by people who claim their devices were infected by Pegasus.

"Matter (is) already with the Supreme Court. The court has constituted a committee under the supervision of retired judge Raveendran. The committee's report (is) awaited," the source said.

According to a report in The New York Times, the Israeli spyware Pegasus and a missile system were the "centerpieces" of a roughly USD 2-billion deal of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear between India and Israel in 2017.

Opposition party Congress launched an all-out attack on the government following the New York Times report, accusing it of deceiving Parliament, duping the Supreme Court, hijacking democracy and indulging in treason, after a media report claimed India bought the Pegasus spyware from Israel as part of a defence deal in 2017.

The Congress said it intends to raise the issue in the budget session starting next week and will demand accountability from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP government on the floor of Parliament.

The principal Opposition party also urged the Supreme Court to take suo motu cognisance of the matter and initiate appropriate penal proceedings against the government for attempting to deliberately and knowingly "deceive" it.

The shadow of the Pegasus issue looms large again over the 2022 budget session as the entire Monsoon session of 2021 was washed out after the Opposition had jointly stalled the proceedings over the issue.

A massive controversy erupted last year when the NSO Group hit the headlines with the alleged use of its Pegasus software by some governments to spy on journalists, human rights defenders, politicians and others in a number of countries, including India, triggered concerns over issues relating to privacy.

The Narendra Modi government as a whole has till now neither denied nor confirmed categorically that it had bought the spyware that can crack the encrypted communications of any iPhone or Android smartphone.

“Though the Israeli government’s oversight was meant to prevent the powerful spyware from being used in repressive ways, Pegasus has been sold to Poland, Hungary and India, despite those countries’ questionable records on human rights,” said the investigative report in The New York Times Magazine, the supplement included with the Sunday edition of The New York Times newspaper. The report was uploaded on The New York Times website on Friday.

In another report on the highlights of the year-long investigation, The New York Times Magazine said: “Through a series of new deals licensed by the Israeli Ministry of Defense, Pegasus has been provided to the far-right leaders of Poland, Hungary, India and other countries.” This newspaper could not seek comment from the Indian government because of the late hour at which the news broke.

The full investigation report in The New York Times Magazine said: “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.”

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