Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Wednesday sought proof of the alleged illegal surveillance by the government after Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi raised the Pegasus issue in the Lok Sabha, reported The Indian Express.
During a discussion on drug abuse in India, Gogoi asked Shah if he has increased surveillance at airports and sea and land borders, from where banned narcotics enter the country.
“How are you using intelligence and surveillance?” he asked. “You snoop on us, tap on our phones with Pegasus. You spy on journalists with Pegasus. Through Pegasus, how many drug mafia have you caught?”
Shah described Gogoi’s allegation as serious.
“Give proof, you can’t just say such things,” Shah added. “This House is for serious discussion, not for baseless politically-motivated allegations.”
To this, Gogoi said that if his statement was wrong, the government should come forth and assert that it has not used spyware.
However, Shah reiterated his demand for proof, adding that the Supreme Court has already decided on the matter.
The Pegasus spyware is licensed to governments around the world by the Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO Group.
In July 2021, a story about Pegasus being used by governments around the world to snoop on critics was broken by a consortium of international media organisations.
The exposes had shown that the military-grade spyware had been used for unauthorised surveillance of Opposition leaders, activists and journalists. In India, The Wire had reported that 161 Indians were spied on using Pegasus. The Indian government has denied the allegations.
NSO Group, however, insists that it sells the software only to “vetted governments” with good human-rights records and that Pegasus is intended to target criminals.
Following the expose, the Supreme Court had appointed an expert committee to look into the allegations. In August, the court had said that some malware was found on five of the 29 phones that the panel examined.
However, it was not clear whether the malware was Pegasus.
The judges had also taken took note of a finding by the panel that the Centre did not cooperate with the inquiry.
“The same stand you took here [before the Supreme Court], you took there,” the court had told the Centre.