India’s right-wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing heat following revelations that dozens of Indians were potential targets of snooping by an Israeli-made spyware.
More than 1,000 phone numbers in India were among nearly 50,000 selected worldwide as possibly of interest to clients of the Israel-based NSO Group, maker of the Pegasus spyware, an investigation by a consortium of media organisations revealed on Sunday.
The leaked list, shared with the news outlets by Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based journalism nonprofit, and rights group Amnesty International, showed the identities of people targeted with more than 300 of those phone numbers in India, including politicians, dozens of journalists, businessmen and even two ministers in the Modi government.
Indian media reports said Modi’s main rival, former Congress party president Rahul Gandhi, was among dozens of Indian politicians, activists and government critics identified as potential targets of the Pegasus spyware.
“Is spying on India’s security forces, judiciary, cabinet ministers, opposition leaders including Rahul Gandhi, journalists and other activities through a foreign entity’s spyware not treason and an inexcusable dismantling of national security?” Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala said on Monday.
Gandhi’s phone numbers, which he has since given up, appear to have been selected for targeting between 2018 and mid-2019, when the parliamentary elections were held in India.
The Congress party on Monday demanded an investigation into the roles of Modi and his closest aide, Home Minister Amit Shah, in the scandal.
“Our first demand is the immediate sacking of Minister of Home and Internal Security Amit Shah and a probe into the role of the prime minister in the matter,” Surjewala said.
Among others whose phone numbers were reportedly targeted are a top virologist, a woman who had accused a former chief justice of India of rape, a former election commissioner who oversaw the 2019 national polls, and leading political strategist Prashant Kishor.
Also Ashok Lavasa, the former election commissioner of India, who had faulted Modi for violations of the model code of conduct before the 2019 election was supposedly spied upon.
Also appearing in the Pegasus spyware list are more than 40 Indian journalists belonging to different news organisations.
Pegasus is spyware owned by NSO Group, an Israeli technology firm. It enables the remote surveillance of smartphones, secretly unlocks the contents of a target’s mobile phone and transforms it into a listening device.
The firm claims the spyware is sold exclusively to “vetted governments” around the world to combat “terrorism” and other serious crimes.
READ: Authoritative governments use Israeli software to spy on activists, politicians and journalists