Communist Party of India MP Binoy Viswam on Monday submitted a notice to move a privilege motion in Ra against Union Minister of Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnaw for his statement to Parliament last year on the Pegasus spyware, PTI reported.
Viswam, a Communist Party of India member, said he submitted his notice after a report in The New York Times on Friday which said that India purchased the Israeli spyware Pegasus in 2017 as part of a $2-billion defence package.
In July, several media organisations across the world had reported on the use of Pegasus, which has been developed by the NSO Group. In India, The Wire had reported that 161 Indians were spied on through Pegasus.
Speaking in Parliament on July 19, Vaishnaw had dismissed reports about the use of Pegasus to spy on journalists, activists and Opposition leaders. He had said that with checks and balances in place, illegal surveillance was not possible in India. Vaishnaw had also alleged that the report was an attempt to malign the “Indian democracy and its well-established institutions”.
Viswam on Monday said that while the allegations of snooping are serious and violate constitutional rights, Vaishnaw’s attempt to deliberately mislead MPs is a breach of privilege. The parliamentarian said that The New York Times report is the latest among several pieces of evidence made public that indicate the government’s involvement in purchasing spyware, despite its best efforts.
Congress Rajya Sabha member KC Venugopal said that Vaishnaw had misled Parliament and that the party will be moving a privilege motion, ANI reported on Monday. “Now, the most credible newspaper of the world says the Pegasus deal was done during PM Modi’s visit to Israel,” Venugopal was quoted as saying.
Members of the Opposition parties on Saturday castigated the Union government following The New York Times report. Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala had said that the party will discuss the matter with leaders of other Opposition parties and strategise to raise the matter in Parliament in the next few days.
Surjewala added that the Modi government had misled the Supreme Court and referred to a statement from an affidavit by the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology that denied all allegations against the government.
The Narendra Modi-led government has still not clearly stated whether it ever bought the spyware, and has refused multiple times to file an affidavit in the Supreme Court on the matter.
After the first reports about Pegasus came out, the matter was brought up by the Opposition in Parliament. Leaders had protested vociferously and pleas were filed in the Supreme Court against the government. The top court, in turn, had set up a panel to look into the allegations. Its inquiry is ongoing.
On January 2, the Supreme Court committee issued a public notice urging people to write to firstname.lastname@example.org with proof of why they suspect their phone was hacked by the spyware. The deadline for submissions was January 7.