The Centre on Monday appeared not willing to hold a debate in Parliament on the allegations of surveillance by use of the Pegasus spyware.
A press release on an all-party meeting held on Monday – the first day of the Budget session – stated on Opposition parties’ demand of holding a debate on the Pegasus row, Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said that the matter was sub judice.
Opposition leaders have been demanding a Parliament discussion on the matter since a report in The New York Times on January 28 said that India had purchased the Israeli spyware 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 Israeli cybersecurity firm NSO Group. In India, The Wire had reported that 161 Indians were spied on through Pegasus.
The NSO Group has said that the spyware can only be sold to “vetted governments”.
So far, leaders of three parties – the Trinamool Congress, the Congress and the Communist Party of India – have moved privilege motions against Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, alleging that he had misled Parliament on the matter.
At Monday’s all-party meeting, Joshi said that MPs could raise any matter during the Motion of Thanks to the president’s address to the joint sitting of both Houses, reported The Hindu. At the meeting, Opposition leaders also suggested that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should give a statement on the matter if a discussion was not possible. However, Joshi did not give any assurances, according to the newspaper.
Among Pegasus’ potential targets were many Opposition leaders, including Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, former Election Commissioner of India Ashok Lavasa, The Wire founders Siddharth Varadarajan and MK Venu and even the former Supreme Court staffer who had accused former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment.
More than 40 journalists and activists were also on the list.
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”.
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 court had set up a panel to look into the allegations. The court-appointed committee is conducting an inquiry into the matter.