Indian IT minister denies snooping by GoI, features on Israeli spyware Pegasus list himself

New Delhi: Besides accessing the information of journalists, political leaders, and activists, the phone number of India’s Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnav was also listed as potential targets for hacking through Israeli spyware Pegasus, The Week reported.

As per reports, more than 300 verified mobile phone numbers, including two serving ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders, and one sitting judge besides scores of business persons and activists in India could have been targeted for hacking through the Israeli spyware sold only to government agencies.

Ashwini Vaishnav, however, on Monday said such claims are an attempt to malign Indian democracy. “Those reports had no factual basis and were denied by all parties. Press reports of 18 July 2021 also appear to be an attempt to malign Indian democracy and its well-established institutions,” he said.

A database containing over 50,000 telephone numbers belonging to journalists, ministers, opposition leaders, activists, and judges has been found, following a joint investigation by Paris-based media non-profit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, which shared the list of numbers with 17 media partners across the world. The investigation performed forensic tests on a small cross-section of phones associated with the leaked numbers, and revealed clear signs of targeting by Pegasus spyware in 37 phones, of which 10 are Indian.

Amid reports that phones of journalists and activists were hacked through Pegasus spyware, IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnav said in Lok Sabha, “A very sensational news was published last night by a web portal. Many over-the-top allegations were made around this news. The press report has come out a day before the monsoon session of Parliament. It can’t be a coincidence.”

Vaishnav said, “It is alleged that people connected with these phone numbers are being spied on. However, the report states that the presence of a phone number in the data does not suggest whether the device was infected with Pegasus or was attempted to be hacked,” he said, adding that “our laws and strong institutions are subject to checks and balances.” With this, any kind of illegal surveillance is not possible.


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