Updated: July 26, 2021 9:23:22 pm
Israeli spyware Pegasus developed by the NSO Group — now at the heart of the alleged state surveillance of thousands of human rights activists, lawyers, journalists, politicians, and dissidents in countries including India — also targeted Rajeshwar Singh, a senior Enforcement Directorate officer who led several high-profile investigations, The Wire has reported.
Besides Singh’s two numbers, four of his family members also seem to have been targeted by the spyware.
The leaked global database, first accessed by French non-profit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, has also shown V K Jain, a former IAS officer who worked as a personal assistant to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, to be a person of interest. Contact details of an official each from the PMO and NITI Aayog were also found in the leaked data.
In India, at least 300 people are believed to have been targeted, including two serving Ministers in the Narendra Modi government, three Opposition leaders, one constitutional authority, several journalists and business persons.
Rajeshwar Singh’s contact details on the list assumes significance as the ED officer has been a part of many high-profile investigations, including the 2G scam case and the Aircel-Maxis deal case involving former finance minister P Chidambaram.
As Singh continued with the probe into the Aircel-Maxis deal case, a PIL was filed claiming Singh had amassed disproportionate assets.
While the Supreme Court protected Rajeshwar Singh in 2014, it gave the government a green light to investigate the ED officer in June 2018.
Regarding Kejriwal’s aide V K Jain, his contact details appeared in the leaked records in 2018, when he was handling some of the important files of the state government, including education and health infrastructure.
The NITI Aayog official, another to appear on the Pegasus project list, was a senior employee of the Union government’s policy think-tank, while the PMO officer is currently an under secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, The Wire reported. The PMO official was in charge of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tours in 2017 when he became a potential target for the NSO group.
The government has, meanwhile, denied allegations that the Pegasus spyware was being used to snoop on politicians, journalists and a constitutional authority, among others. Last Monday, the Union government called the report “sensational”, and an attempt “to malign Indian democracy and its well established institutions”.
The numbers of Union Minister Prahlad Singh Patel and Railways & IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw have figured among the 300 “verified” Indian mobile numbers in the list investigated by the global project.
Amid the raging controversy over its surveillance software Pegasus, Israeli cybersecurity company NSO Group has defended itself by saying that millions of people around the world sleep well at night and walk in the streets safely due to such technologies available with intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
The company also stated that it does not operate the technology, nor does it have access to the data collected by its clients.
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