In late 2019, Pegasus, an Israeli-made spyware, was in the news. In October 2019, WhatsApp said it was suing NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm, that was behind the technology for Pegasus, which was used by spies to hack into phones of roughly 1,400 users around the world.
These users spanned across four continents and included diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior government officials. Indian users were among those who were targeted. Then, The Indian Express reported that “two dozen academics, lawyers, dalit activists and journalists in India” had been snooped on using Pegasus.
Now, more than 18 months after the initial expose, Pegasus seems set to be back in the news.
BJP Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy, never one to back away from broaching controversial topics, on Sunday tweeted that Pegasus could have also been used to tap the phones of ministers in the Narendra Modi government, RSS leaders and SC justices. Swamy claimed there was a rumour that western media outlets would publish a report exposing this.
Swamy tweeted, “Strong rumour that this evening IST, Washington Post & London Guardian are publishing a report exposing the hiring of an Israeli firm Pegasus, for tapping phones of Modi’s Cabinet Ministers, RSS leaders, SC judges, & journalists. If I get this confirmed I will publish the list.”
Derek O’Brien, Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha MP, responded to Swamy’s tweet by claiming the phone tapping also targeted “many members of the opposition”.
Congress Lok Sabha MP Karti Chidambaram also referred to Pegasus, but in a more cryptic manner than Swamy. Karti Chidamabaram tweeted, “A little birdie tells me that Pegasus is going to be explosive.”
Veteran journalist Sheela Bhatt tweeted on Saturday night that the report “is a really big story” and involved collaboration of media organisations, including from India. She claimed the report would be published at “11.59pm” on Sunday.
When the Pegasus allegations emerged in 2019, then Union minister for information technology Ravi Shankar Prasad had told Parliament that no “unauthorised” use of Pegasus had been made in India by government agencies.