IT minister calls Pegasus project ‘baseless’, later finds place in list of spied people

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New Delhi: A day after media reports of alleged spying of journalists and other personalities of the country with Pegasus spyware surfaced, union minister for IT Ashwini Vaishnaw rubbished the reports of espionage.

Vaishnaw was replying on behalf of the government to the questions of the opposition in the Lok Sabha. He said it is an attempt to malign Indian democracy.

Surprisingly, less than an hour later, Vaishnaw found a place in the list of those possibly targeted by the spyware, according to Day 2 of The Wire’s revelations.

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Phone numbers of Ashwini Vaishnaw, along with Jal Shakti minister Prahlad Singh, were found among 300 verified Indian numbers listed as potential targets for surveillance during 2017-2019 by a client of the Israel-based NSO group, The Wire said. This phone tapping reportedly took place bewteen 2017-19.

The report also said that Vaishnaw was informed of his presence in the leaked database on Sunday but has yet to respond with a comment or reaction.

However, in response to the Opposition’s queries, the union IT minister said: “NSO has also said that the report is false and baseless. Any kind of illegal surveillance is not possible in our system. This media report coming a day before Parliament session is not a coincidence.”

At least 300 verified phones from India were listed as potential targets by an official Indian client of the Israeli surveillance, The Wire said in its report. It published a series of reports as to how NSO’s spyware made a concerted attack at 40 journalists, rights activists, ministers and judges among others.