In 2019, IT House panel unsuccessfully tried to probe Pegasus breach

IT Ministry officials told panel that 121 people affected by Pegasus spyware, sources said

In 2019, during a probe by the Standing Committee on Information Technology headed by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, officials of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITy), according to sources, told the panel that 121 people were affected by the Pegasus spyware.

The Kudankulam nuclear plant too had reported a cyber breach. The officials from the Department of Atomic Energy and the Kudankulam nuclear plant, the sources said, stated that the malware infection was only found in the administrative side of the plant’s operations.

Officials of both MEITy and the Ministry of Home Affairs though neither confirmed nor denied the involvement of the government in snooping using the Pegasus spyware, which is sold by Israeli technology firm, the NSO group.

The government also did not clarify who these 121 individuals were or if they were contacted for a detailed probe into the issue.

On November 20, 2019, when the Standing Committee wanted to discuss the issue, the BJP members vehemently opposed it. They argued that it was illegal and beyond the purview of the panel to discuss the issue. The discussion could begin only after the agenda was voted down upon. Only 25 of the panel’s 31 members attended the meeting, of which 12 voted against initiating a meeting, while 12 voted in favour. The final deciding vote was cast by Mr. Tharoor.

Panel meets 17 persons

In a subsequent meeting, the panel met 17 persons, who had come together under a common platform “Pegasus Targeted Persons”. They included human rights activist Bela Bhatia, Marxist Dalit author Anand Teltumbde, Jagdalpur Legal Aid group member Shalini Gera, Chattisgarh base civil rights activist Alok Shukla and human rights activist Jagdish Meshram among others.

Watch | Explained: Pegasus, the spyware that came in via WhatsApp

 

The panel did not submit any report on the consultations.

Speaking to The Hindu, Mr Tharoor refused to comment on the deliberations. “Only governments have Pegasus. If our government has used it, then it is certainly illegal, the exceptions of national security and terrorism does not apply to Rahul Gandhi or Prashant Kishor. And if it is not our government’s work, then it is even more serious since it is a breach of our national security,” he stated. There had to be a judicial investigation into it, he added.

In a tweet, he said, “If it turns out that it’s our govt & it’s authorised (to do it), GoI needs to give an explanation as the law only permits interception of communication for issues of national security, terrorism; otherwise, it’s illegal. Essential for govt to cooperate in a probe.”

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