Interestingly, while some of journalists, whose reports caused inconveniences to the government, opposition leaders and activists, figuring in the list was not surprising, what has raised the eyebrows is that the list contains the names of two serving Ministers in the Union Cabinet, and current and former heads of security organisations.
The finger of suspicion over this mass surveillance is firmly pointing towards the Union government because NSO, the Israeli company that sells the controversial technology, Pegasus, claims it deals only with sovereign governments and not private entities.
The leaked databased, which contained the phone numbers of thousands of similar figures from various countries, was accessed by Paris-based nonprofit media firm Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International. It was shared with some of the leading media houses around the world, including The Guardian, The Washington Post, Le Monde, Indian news portal The Wire, and a dozen other European, Asian and Arab publications.
The list of mobile phones that were targeted including those belonging to the human rights activists who are jailed as undertrials in the Bhima Koregaon case.
Responding to the controversy that is now being discussed across the world, the Union government said the country was committed to ensure the right privacy of all citizens as a matter of fundamental right.
Meanwhile, the Centre issued a statement on the issue saying, “India is a robust democracy that is committed to ensuring the right to privacy to all its citizens as a fundamental right. In furtherance of this commitment, it has also introduced the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 and the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, to protect the personal data of individuals and to empower users of social media platforms. The commitment to free speech as a fundamental right is the cornerstone of India’s democratic system. We have always strived to attain an informed citizenry with an emphasis on a culture of open dialogue.”