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Indian opposition disrupts parliament over Pegasus snooping claims

Published: Updated:

India’s parliament was disrupted for the second day running on Tuesday by noisy opposition calls for an investigation into reports of snooping on politicians and others with Israeli-made spyware Pegasus.

The parties, led by the main opposition Congress, shouted slogans and raised a ruckus in both houses of parliament that had reconvened on Monday after being cut short in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Shaktisinh Gohil, a Congress spokesman, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government should clearly say whether it used Pegasus to spy on dozens of politicians, journalists, activists, and critics.

“If yes, then the government should order a joint parliamentary committee probe to investigate the entire matter,” he told reporters in New Delhi.

Congress also held demonstrations in the heart of the capital before police intervened and detained several protesters.

Carrying banners, toy binoculars and magnifying glasses, the demonstrators accused the ruling party of ordering the hacking of smartphones.

More than 1,000 Indian phone numbers were among tens of thousands worldwide selected as possibly of interest to clients of NSO Group, maker of the Pegasus spyware, according to an investigation by a group of media outlets.

The identities behind around 300 of the numbers were verified by the international consortium of media outlets and included Modi’s main political rival, Rahul Gandhi of Congress.

Others included Indian politicians, journalists, activists and government critics, as well as India’s newly appointed IT minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw.

Also reported to be on the list was a woman who made sexual harassment allegations against India’s former chief justice, as well as Tibetan Buddhist clerics, Pakistani diplomats, and Chinese journalists.

It is not known how many of the phones on the list were actually targeted for surveillance or how many attempts were successful, according to the Washington Post, which was part of the joint international investigation.

But forensic analyses performed on 22 smartphones in India with numbers on the list showed that 10 were targeted with Pegasus, seven of them successfully, reports said.

The Indian government denied the allegations, with Home Minister Amit Shah saying they were aimed to “humiliate India at the world stage” and “derail India’s development trajectory.”

Critics say India should state whether or not it had licensed the spyware from NSO. The government says that any surveillance is done in accordance with strict rules and oversight.

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