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Editors guild urges Justice Raveendran panel to take notice of Pegasus

The Editors Guild of India urged the Justice R V Raveendran committee to take cognisance of the "startling claims" made in a report about the purchase of the Pegasus spyware by India

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Press Trust of India New Delhi
The Editors Guild of India urged the Justice R V Raveendran committee on Sunday to take cognisance of the "startling claims" made in a New York Times (NYT) report about the purchase of the Pegasus spyware by India and seek responses from the government and the ministries that may have been involved in the alleged deal in 2017.
In its letter to Justice Raveendran, the guild also urged that the proceedings of the committee, set up by the Supreme Court last year to probe the alleged use of the spyware for targeted surveillance in the country, be kept open to the public at large so that there is complete transparency with respect to the witnesses being called as well as their responses.
In a statement, the guild said the claims made in the investigative report of NYT are in "stark contrast" to the stand of the government, which continues to be "vague and non-committal" in its response to the allegations that it purchased the Israeli spyware and used it against Indian citizens, including journalists and civil society members.
"We on behalf of the Editors Guild of India wish to address you on certain startling revelations that have been published by the New York Times on January 28, 2022 regarding the spyware 'Pegasus', sold and licensed by Israeli company NSO Group," the editors' body wrote in its letter to Justice Raveendran.
It noted that the Supreme Court, while constituting the committee, had specifically required it to enquire, investigate and determine whether any Pegasus suite of spyware was acquired by the Union of India or any state government or any central or state agency for use against the citizens of the country.
"We urge the committee to take cognisance of the startling claims by one of the most respected news organisations in the world and to call upon the Government of India, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India as well as the secretaries of ministries that may have been involved with the claimed purchase of the spyware -- Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Home, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology as well as any other ministry that your Lordship or the committee deems fit as witnesses to the inquiry and seek their responses on affidavit on the aforementioned New York Times report," the guild said.
The NYT report claimed that India bought the spyware as part of a USD 2-billion defence deal with Israel in 2017.
The report, titled "The Battle for the World's Most Powerful Cyberweapon", triggered a major controversy on Saturday, with the Opposition alleging that the government indulged in illegal snooping that amounted to "treason".
The report said the NSO Group had for nearly a decade been "selling its surveillance software on a subscription basis to law-enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world, promising that it could do what no one else -- not a private company, not even a state intelligence service -- could do: consistently and reliably crack the encrypted communications of any iPhone or Android smartphone".
The report also referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Israel in July 2017 -- the first by an Indian prime minister.
"For decades, India had maintained a policy of what it called 'commitment to the Palestinian cause', and relations with Israel were frosty. The Modi visit, however, was notably cordial, complete with a carefully staged moment of him and (then Israeli) Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu walking together barefoot on a local beach," it said.
"They had reason for the warm feelings. Their countries had agreed on the sale of a package of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly USD 2 billion -- with Pegasus and a missile system as the centrepieces.
"Months later, Netanyahu made a rare state visit to India. And in June 2019, India voted in support of Israel at the UN's Economic and Social Council to deny observer status to a Palestinian human rights organisation, a first for the nation," the report said.
The guild noted "with deep concern" the claims made in the report.
"The claims in the NYT report are in stark contrast to the stance of the Government of India, which has been and continues to be vague and non-committal in its response to these extremely serious allegations that whether it purchased the spyware, and more disturbingly, if it was used against Indian citizens, including journalists and civil society members," it said.
A massive row erupted last year over the alleged use of the Pegasus spyware for targeted surveillance in the country.
However, the government had dismissed the allegations of any kind of surveillance on its part on specific people.
The apex court set up the independent expert committee under Justice R V Raveendran in October to probe the alleged use of Pegasus for targeted surveillance, observing that the State cannot get a "free pass" every time the spectre of national security is raised and that its mere invocation cannot render the judiciary a "mute spectator" and be the bugbear it shies away from.

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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First Published: Jan 30 2022 | 7:56 PM IST

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