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Home / News / India /  Pegasus row: 'No transaction' with spyware maker NSO group, says defence ministry

The Indian government has had no transaction with Pegasus spyware maker NSO Group, the Union defence ministry said on Rajya Sabha on Monday.

"Ministry of defence has not had any transaction with NSO Group Technologies," said minister of state for defence Ajay Bhatt.

The business of both the houses of parliament has been disrupted since the Monsoon session began as opposition parties have been raising questions and protesting against the allegations of snooping by the government.

Earlier, IT and communications minister Ashwini Vaishnaw had dismissed reports on the use of Pegasus software to snoop on Indians, saying the allegations levelled just ahead of the Monsoon session were aimed at maligning Indian democracy.

In a suo motu statement in Lok Sabha, Vaishnaw had said that with several checks and balances being in place, "any sort of illegal surveillance" by unauthorised persons is not possible in India.

A controversy has erupted after an investigation by a global media consortium based on leaked targeting data.

The investigation was based on a data leak of around 50,000 numbers obtained by Amnesty International and Paris-based Forbidden Stories, a non-profit.

It claims that the military-grade malware from the NSO Group was being used to spy on politicians, journalists, human rights activists and others.

Names of opposition leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, and two union ministers -- Prahlad Singh Patel and railways and IT minister Vaishnaw -- are on the list of leaked database. A journalist from Mint and three from Hindustan Times were also named, among around 40 media persons.

What is Pegasus?

Pegasus is malware that is used to spy on people. Security firm Kaspersky called it a tool for “total surveillance". Its creator, the Israeli security firm NSO Group, has said it only sells the tool to government agencies.

A document containing the product details of Pegasus was uploaded to document cloud by Claudio Guarnieri, head of security lab at Amnesty International, in 2019. It said Pegasus was designed for  three things: collection of historic data on a device, continuous monitoring of activity, and transmission of this data to third parties.

Opposition on the issue

Last week, 14 opposition parties demanded a discussion on the Pegasus issue in parliament. Claiming the matter has "national security dimensions", the statement demanded that the Union Home Minister Amit Shah respond to the issue.

Rahul Gandhi had taken a swipe at the BJP-led central government and asked: "We want to ask just one question. Has the Government of India bought Pegasus? Yes or No. Did the government use Pegasus weapon against its own people?"

He said that the government has informed the opposition that no discussion will take place on Pegasus in the parliament and asked why the "opposition is being silenced".

"I want to know from the youth of the country, Narendra Modi ji has sent a weapon in your phone. This weapon has been used against me, Supreme Court, many leaders, people in the press and activists. So why it should not be discussed in the House?" said the Congress leader.


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