More than 300 verified mobile numbers, including of two serving ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders and one sitting judge besides many business persons and activists in India could are targeted for hacking through an Israeli spyware sold only to government agencies, a world media consortium reported on Sunday.
The government, however, dismissed allegations of any quite surveillance on its part on specific people, saying it "has no concrete basis or truth related to it whatsoever".
Asserting that "India may be a robust democracy that's committed to making sure the proper to privacy to all or any its citizens as a fundamental right", the govt dismissed the media report as an effort to playing "the role of an investigator, prosecutor also as jury".
The report was published by The Wire news portal from India as also 16 other international publications including Washington Post, The Guardian and Le Monde, as media partners to an investigation conducted by Paris-based media non-profit organisation Forbidden Stories and rights group Amnesty International into a leaked list of quite 50,000 phone numbers from across the planet that are believed to possess been the target of surveillance through Pegasus software of Israeli surveillance company NSO Group.
The Wire reported that forensic tests conducted as a part of the media investigation project on alittle cross-section of phones related to these numbers revealed clear signs of targeting by Pegasus spyware in 37 phones, of which 10 are Indian.
The report came just each day before the beginning of the Monsoon Session of Parliament and will see the matter being raised in two houses, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, beginning tomorrow. Some opposition leaders also are expected to offer notices for adjournment or debate on this issue.
The Wire said the numbers of these within the database from India include over 40 journalists, three major opposition figures, one constitutional authority, two serving ministers within the Narendra Modi government, current and former heads and officials of security organisations and many businesspersons, as also a sitting judge.
Responding to the reports, the govt mentioned its reply given to the media consortium and said similar claims were made within the past also regarding the utilization of Pegasus on WhatsApp by India and people reports also had no factual basis and were categorically denied by all parties, including WhatsApp within the Indian Supreme Court.
"This report , thus, also appears to be an identical fishing expedition, supported conjectures and exaggerations to malign the Indian democracy and its institutions," the govt said.
It further said that there's a well-established procedure through which "lawful interception of transmission is administered so as for the aim of national security, particularly on the occurrence of any public emergency or within the interest of public safety, by agencies at the Centre and States" and therefore the procedure ensures that any interception, monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource is completed as per a due process of law of law.
NSO Group, the Israeli company which sells Pegasus worldwide, says its clients, are confined to “vetted governments”, believed to number 36, consistent with The Wire.
Forbidden Stories, which accessed the info , stated that it comprises records of phone numbers selected as targets by NSO clients, a claim the corporate formally denied while conceding that its clients may need used these numbers for “other purposes”.
A majority of the numbers identified within the list were geographically concentrated in 10 country clusters: India, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and therefore the United Arab Emirates.
The leaked data includes the numbers of top journalists at big media houses just like the Hindustan Times, India Today, Network18, The Hindu and Indian Express, The Wire said.
The mobile of a former Delhi University professor was also allegedly targeted, while the database also included a minimum of nine numbers belonging to eight activists, lawyers and academics arrested between June 2018 and October 2020 for his or her supposed role within the Elgar Parishad case.
The Wire, however, added that the mere presence of a telephone number within the leaked data does alone not reveal whether a tool was infected.
"Indeed, it's impossible to understand whether their phones were targeted by Pegasus spyware... without digital forensic analysis," it said.
The government, in its response, said India is committed to making sure the proper to privacy to all or any its citizens as a fundamental right and for that, it's also introduced the private Data Protection Bill, 2019 and therefore the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, to guard the private data of people and to empower users of social media platforms.
The commitment to free speech as a fundamental right is that the cornerstone of India's democratic system, it said.
"We have always strived to achieve an informed citizenry with a stress on a culture of open dialogue. However, the questionnaire sent to the govt of India indicates that the story being crafted is one that's not only deprived of facts but also founded in pre-conceived conclusions," it said, pertaining to the queries it had received from the media consortium.
"It seems you're trying to play the role of an investigator, prosecutor also as jury. Considering the very fact that answers to the queries posed have already been within the property right for an extended time, it also indicates poorly conducted research and lack of due diligence by the esteemed media organizations involved," the govt said in its response to the worldwide media collective that worked on 'Project Pegasus'.