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“No transaction with NSO group” says Defence ministry in Parliament amid Pegasus row

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date

New Delhi: The ministry of defence on Monday while responding to a pointed question, set forth by the opposition in the Parliament, said that it has had no transaction with the NSO group – the Israeli firm that is at the centre of alleged snooping controversy involving the Pegasus spyware.

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“Ministry of Defence has not had any transaction with NSO Group Technologies,” minister of state for defence Ajay Bhatt said while replying to a question in Rajya Sabha.

He was asked whether the government had carried out any transaction with the NSO Group Technologies.

This is the first time the government has responded to pointed questions over the Pegasus snooping row.

The opposition had mounted a scathing attack on the government during the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament, asking it to have a full-fledged debate on the issue.

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A massive controversy had erupted last month over allegations of government surveillance targeting various prominent individuals in the country using the Israeli software.

An international media consortium had reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on a list of potential targets for surveillance using Israeli firm NSO’s Pegasus spyware. 

Opposition leaders including Rahul Gandhi, two union ministers — Prahlad Singh Patel and railways and IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw — businessman Anil Ambani, a former CBI chief, and at least 40 journalists are on the list on the leaked database of NSO. It is, however, not established that all the phones were hacked.

IT and communications minister Ashwini Vaishnawhad had dismissed media reports on the use of Pegasus software to snoop on Indians, saying the allegations levelled just ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament were aimed at maligning Indian democracy.

In a suo motu statement in Lok Sabha, Vaishnaw had said that with several checks and balances being in place, “any sort of illegal surveillance” by unauthorised persons is not possible in India.

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The government had also denied the reports of surveillance, saying that such allegations has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever.

In a detailed statement, the government had described the news reports based on the Pegasus leak a “fishing expedition” meant to malign the Indian democracy and its institutions.

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