CPI (M) presses BJP government to answer on authorisation of “illegal surveillance of Indians”

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Imphal: Communist Party of India (Marxist) Manipur has asked the BJP government, “Who authorized Illegal surveillance of Indians to malign Indian Democracy and its well established Institutions?”

Concerning information has emerged on the government of India procuring the Pegasus spyware from an Israeli firm, NSO, the worldwide leader in cyber surveillance. These investigations reveal a large number of opposition and ruling politicians including two Union ministers- Ashwini Vaishnav (railways, IT and communications) and Prahlad Singh Patel (MOS of Jal Sakti), journalists and human rights activists have been targeted for hacking their smart phones for surveillance, a statement released by CPI(M) Manipur secretary Kshetrimayum Santa said on Wednesday.

This report says, “In India, the numbers of phones belonging to hundreds of journalists, activists, opposition politicians, government officials and business executives were on the snooping list”. Reports in Indian media have named at least 40 journalists , out of the list of 300 revealed, who are under surveillance of this spy software, Pegasus, it added

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Two years ago, KK Ragesh,CPI(M) MP, had raised in Parliament that this dangerous spyware was being used in India as revealed by WhatsApp. The Modi government’s response had not categorically denied that it engaged the services of NSO but claimed that there is no “unauthorized surveillance”. The present IT minister Ashwini Vaishnav, whose own number and his wife’s number were identified as targets in 2017 before he entered Parliament , said in Parliament that the project’s claims about Indian Surveillance were an attempt to malign Indian Democracy and its well established Institutions. There are contradictory statements on the issue by the ruling party managers and leaders, it said.

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But , with these revelations, it is clear that this government has engaged NSO for such surveillance against its own citizens including some of their own top ranking functionaries . The Central government must come clean on what is its engagement with NSO, what are the terms and how much our public funds have been paid for this.

Use of a cyber spy software to hack smart phones even by the government is prohibited under Indian laws. Under what law has the government undertaken such surveillance activities over citizens? The right to privacy is a fundamental right as laid down by the Supreme Court, but this BJP government is prevaricating on legislating the privacy law, it added.

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Earlier instances of hacking smart phones and computers of human rights activists have been exposed. Material is digitally planted on their devices. It is then used for their arrests under draconian laws. This is unacceptable levels of action and authoritarianism employing fascistic methods. The `snoop, plant, arrest’ formula employed by this BJP government is a violation of the fundamental rights of Indian citizens, the CPI (M) said.

“The BJP central government must answer and come clean on using the Pegasus cyber software for surveillance of Indian citizens in an illegal and unauthorized manner,” it added.

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