India is a “robust democracy committed to ensuring the right to privacy to all its citizens as a fundamental right”, the government said in response to some of the media organisations that reported on Sunday a surveillance operation targeting politicians, journalists and activists.
A consortium of 17 media organisations, including The Guardian, The Washington Post and India’s The Wire, said a phone hacking software known as Pegasus was used to target potentially thousands of people around the world. The software is made by Israel-based NSO Group, which said it only supplies to government clients.
In its response published by The Guardian, The Indian government termed the reports a “fishing expedition” and said there is no concrete basis or truth associated with the claim that there was government surveillance on specific people.
“The commitment to free speech as a fundamental right is the cornerstone of India’s democratic system. We have always strived to attain an informed citizenry with an emphasis on a culture of open dialogue,” it said.
HT reached out the ministry of electronics and information technology but did not receive a confirmation on the response. Screenshots of an email sent by the ministry to one of the journalists were shared by news agency ANI.
The statement added that the “questionnaire sent to the Government of India indicates that the story being crafted is one that is not only bereft of facts but also founded in pre-conceived conclusions. It seems you are trying to play the role of an investigator, prosecutor as well as jury”.
“It also indicates poorly conducted research and lack of due diligence by the esteemed media organizations involved,” the government said.
It added that the minister of electronics and IT has spoken in detail, including in the Parliament, that there has been no unauthorised interception by Government agencies. “It is important to note that government agencies have a well-established protocol for interception, which includes sanction and supervision from highly ranked officials in central & state governments, for clear stated reasons only in national interest,” the government said.
It added that each case of interception, monitoring, and decryption is approved by a competent authority “i.e. the Union Home Secretary”.