No transactions with Pegasus supplier: Defence Ministry

No transactions with Pegasus supplier NSO Group: Ministry of Defence

The opposition parties have been targeting the central government over the snooping row and disrupting proceedings in Parliament

Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhatt. Credit: PTI Photo

The Ministry of Defence did not have any transaction with the NSO Group Technologies, the government informed the Rajya Sabha, amid row over the possible use of a spyware developed by the company for snooping on the phones of journalists, activists and politicians.

Ajay Bhatt, the Minister of State for Defence, informed the Rajya Sabha in response to a question that the ministry had not had any transaction with the Israeli company NSO Group Technologies, which developed and marketed the spyware called ‘Pegasus’.

His statement has ruled out the possibility of the Ministry of Defence directly purchasing the Pegasus from the NSO Group. But no such categorical statement has so far come from the Prime Minister’s Office or the Ministry of Home Affairs, which control most of the intelligence agencies that play the key role in lawful surveillance of communication networks in the interest of national security.

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Bhatt’s written reply to a query from V Sivadasan, a CPI (M) MP from Kerala, came even as the Congress and the other opposition parties continued protests in both Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha alleging that the government led by the BJP was not allowing discussion on the media reports about the possibility of use of the spyware developed by the NSP Group to snoop on the phones of the politicians, journalists and activists of several nations around the world, including India.

The government recently sought to block another question by the CPI member of the Rajya Sabha from Kerala, Binoy Viswam, on the issue. Viswam wanted the Ministry of External Affairs to inform if the government had a deal with the NSO Group. The government cited Rule 47 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of the Rajya Sabha and stated that since the issue was sub-judice, a question on it could not be admitted. The question was expected to be taken up during the Rajya Sabha session on Thursday, but a final decision was still awaited.

The Union Minister of Information Technology and Communication, Ashwini Vaishnaw, earlier said that “any sort of illegal surveillance” by unauthorised persons was not possible in India.

The government, however, did not make it clear if any of its agency had purchased the Pegasus from the NSO Group, although Rahul Gandhi of the Congress and other opposition leaders insisted that it must come clean on this issue.

The company said that it had sold the spyware only to the “vetted governments” around the world.