Congress MP and chairperson of the parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology Shashi Tharoor on Monday sought a Supreme Court judge-monitored investigation into the Pegasus controversy, PTI reported.
His comments came a day after his colleague P Chidambaram raised concerns on whether the parliamentary panel on IT, which has a majority of Bharatiya Janata Party members, will fully investigate the allegations of illegal surveillance.
The Pegasus spyware is licensed to governments around the world by the Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO Group. The company insists that it licences its software only to “vetted governments” with good human-rights records and that Pegasus is intended to target criminals.
But a leaked list, featuring more than 50,000 phone numbers “concentrated in countries known to engage in surveillance of their citizens”, was accessed by Paris-based media nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International. It became the basis of a global investigation called the Pegasus Project in which 17 media organisations collaborated.
Indian news website The Wire, which is among the participants in the project, reported that at least two mobile phone numbers used by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi were selected as a potential surveillance target from mid-2018 to mid-2019. Pegasus allows operators to extract messages, photos and emails, record calls and secretly activate microphones and cameras from iPhones and Android devices.
Speaking to reporters in the Parliament complex after the Lok Sabha was adjourned, Tharoor accused the Modi government of using public money to spy on citizens for its “selfish political interests”.
Other potential surveillance targets include former Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa, Industrialist Anil Ambani, former Central Bureau of Investigation Director Alok Verma, Union ministers Prahlad Patel and Ashwini Vaishnaw, election strategist Prashant Kishor, virologist Gagandeep Kang and Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
Tharoor suggested that Opposition parties would continue to disrupt Parliament proceedings until the government agrees to debate on India’s use of Pegasus spyware. “What we are saying is that if you [government] do not agree to this and answer our questions, then why should [we] allow you to transact your business,” Tharoor said.
So far, the Monsoon session of Parliament has failed to function fully on any single day since the surveillance row erupted on July 18.
On Monday, the Rajya Sabha was adjourned multiple times after Opposition MPs shouted slogans and held protests at the Well of the House.
Rajya Sabha Chairperson M Venkaiah Naidu said members were not able to raise matters of public importance, according to PTI. “We are becoming helpless day by day,” he added.
The Lok Sabha was also adjourned for the day due as Opposition parties continued to protest against the Pegasus controversy and the farm laws. Later in the day, the Factoring Regulation (Amendment) Bill and the National Institute of Food Technology Entrepreneurship and Management Bill were passed without discussion, The Hindu reported.
Meanwhile, the government has reached out to Opposition leaders to end the stalemate in Parliament, NDTV reported. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi met Congress leader Manish Tewari and Nationalist Congress Party MP Supriya Sule.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah met Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla to discuss the matter.