Updated: August 10, 2021 8:22:01 am
At a time when the row over alleged surveillance via the Pegasus spyware has disrupted proceedings in Parliament, Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhatt said Monday that the Ministry of Defence has had no transaction with NSO Group Technologies — the Israeli cyber security company is the developer of Pegasus.
In a written reply to a question by CPM’s V Sivadasan in Rajya Sabha, Bhatt said: “Ministry of Defence has not had any transaction with NSO Group Technologies.”
The response came a day before the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a clutch of petitions demanding an investigation into the Pegasus issue.
Sivadasan had sought details about the budgetary allocation of the Ministry of Defence for the last three years, “the total amount spent by the Ministry in purchases from outside the country in the last three financial years” and “whether Government had carried out any transaction with the NSO Group Technologies”.
In his written response, Bhat mentioned that India spent Rs 45,705.57 crore, Rs 47,961.47 crore and Rs 53,118.58 crore in years 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2020-21, respectively, for foreign procurement by the defence services.
Ever since the beginning of the monsoon session of Parliament, the Opposition has locked horns with the government, demanding a discussion on the Pegasus issue, and objecting to the House taking up any other business.
The government has not yielded to this demand, resulting in a near stalemate in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
In Lok Sabha last month, Ashwani Vaishnaw, Minister of Electronics and Information Technology, effectively echoed what his predecessor Ravi Shankar Prasad had said in Rajya Sabha on November 28, 2019.
Both Prasad then and Vaishnaw now ducked the key question raised by member after member from the Opposition: Did the government or its agencies get Pegasus and, if yes, what were the terms of its use? Both, instead, quoted sections of the law to reiterate the claim that all electronic interceptions follow due process.
Prasad had said: “I would like to say that we have already stated very clearly that any violation of the established procedure is actionable in law. Action will be taken. If anyone is having a problem, let them file the FIR, let them file a formal complaint. And… to the best of my knowledge… no ‘unauthorized instruction’ has been done. That’s all.”
Prasad did inform the House that the Indian Computer Emergency Team (CERT-In) had issued notice to the NSO Group, seeking details on the malware and its impact on Indian users.
Vaishnaw, on the other hand, quoted NSO as having said that the “list of countries shown using Pegasus is incorrect and many countries mentioned are not even our clients”.
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