When govt had admitted in Parliament in 2019 to using Pegasus, why is it shying away now?

The silence of top govt functionaries on an issue of such magnitude and contorted arguments made in Parliament by ministers are perplexing

Representative Image
Representative Image

Krishna Jha

Will the winged horse ever get rooted? Will it ever be able to boast of a key to treasure of truth? Truth that appeared in the Lok Sabha shackled in untruths? Truth that is the ultimate objective for the Parliament to deliver to people for the cause of democracy?

Pegasus is here...like the second phase of pandemic. The horror it carries is not unknown, only it is more intense. It had its forerunners. In 2019, there were the trickling signals like tapping of phones, WhatsApp chats compromised. The surveillance had started gnawing at the crevices of democracy.

There were the sedition charges on any opposing voice, slapping of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) at lightest spur of dissent, legislations speeded up to weaken the economy, in agriculture, in industrial growth, handing over the data privacy bill to a select committee, new set of rules to shackle the digital news platforms, and then the toppling of the state government, each one leading to a decline, turning the country into a surveillance state with Pegasus offering the deadly killer instruments to create a firm foundation. The newest straw has been the list of phone numbers, of the potential victims for surveillance targeted by Pegasus, an Israeli spyware.

Pegasus has been a spy operation found to have been carried out so far on around 300 Indians, which included a Supreme Court judge, ministers, intellectuals, journalists, social activists and top politicians, quite clearly find out their secrets and keep a tab on them in the run up to the election results of 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

On part of the government, there has been a total silence over the issues raising heads post revelations. The entire government machinery has been evading to explain its role; instead questions are raised about the credibility of such revelations. The media consortium has explained that it had received the information from a leaked list that was gathered by a French NGO’s portal called ‘Forbidden Stories’.

As for the consortium, it said, the fifty thousand numbers are of those selected by the government clients of the NSO Group. The names are potential targets for possible surveillance by the government agencies. The explosion came when the Amnesty International’s forensic lab came out with its findings.

Among 67 phones, 23 were infected and 14 showed signs of attempts to penetrate. It strengthens the demand that all the numbers, including the three hundred from our country, should be investigated for any penetration by Pegasus.

Amidst the tightly knitted issues, there is also the claim by the government that it would try to arrive at the source of the information, which again is an impossible task, because in investigative journalism, it is unethical to reveal the source. The government is also firm on not to reveal whether it hired the services of NSO group and its spyware, Pegasus.

Like in 2019, the government hopes to evade the question now again.

In an affidavit to Bombay high court, the NIA had said, “Revelations about the use of spying tools sold to government by NSO Group has already sparked furious political rows across the world after evidence emerged to suggest the surveillance firm’s clients might have used it against their political opponents. It is worth taking note that NSO claims its surveillance tools are sold to carefully vetted government clients who are only permitted to use them for legitimate investigations into crime and terrorism. ”

In the backdrop of this explanation, in fact in 2019 itself Modi government had admitted snooping via Pegasus in the Parliament on November 28, 2019, contrary to the denial of spying this time by IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw. The IT minister had solemnly tried to argue in favour of the government saying the “prism of logic” is something that allows us to realise that there was “no unauthorised surveillance”.

But then, why one would go for a ‘prism of logic’; the direct query is, was it authorised or not?

It is significant that minister himself has been at receiving end so far as snooping Pegasus is concerned.

In fact, for the country, the great democratic traditions and its institutions are today in danger. Political opponents, office bearers of the election commission, political colleagues are all in the list. One fails to feel the ground under the feet. Is it that we are made to explore new ground where there is no democracy, no privacy, no right to express oneself and finally no right to question, especially those in power?

(IPA Service)

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