New Delhi: A global media consortium reported Monday that at least two mobile phone numbers belonging to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi are listed as possible targets of Israeli surveillance vendor NSO Group.
Besides Gandhi, new IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnav, political strategist Prashant Kishor, and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee’s MP nephew Abhishek Banerjee also appeared on the list. Their phones and those of a close aide of Kishor, who was also allegedly targeted, could not be forensically examined, which means hacking could not be confirmed, the consortium said. Gandhi’s two numbers have been removed since they were allegedly targeted. There are also alleged to be five friends and acquaintances of Rahul Gandhi on the list.
Others whose names have come up in the alleged hacking attack are ex-election commissioner Ashok Lavasa, the only critic in the Election Commission’s decision to give clean chits to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah for alleged poll code violations during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, and scientist Gagandeep Kang, former executive director of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI), an autonomous institute under the Union science ministry.
An expose by a group of global media outlets revealed that NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware was used to allegedly bug 300 mobile phone numbers in India. These included two current Union ministers, three opposition leaders, a constitutional authority, current and former heads of security organizations, administrators and 40 senior journalists and activists.
Ashwini Vaishnav, the IT minister of the Union, defended the government earlier today by saying that the report had no factual basis and was an attempt to ‘malign Indian democracy and its well-established institutions’. The minister told the Lok Sabha a ‘highly sensational story’ was published on a web portal last night that contained many over-the-top allegations. Reports appeared in the press a day before Parliament’s monsoon session. ‘It can’t be a coincidence,’ Vaishnav said.
It is alleged that a consortium has gained access to a leaked database of 50,000 phone numbers. ‘As a result, individuals identified through these phone numbers were spied upon,’ said the IT minister. However, the report states that a phone number alone does not reveal whether a device was infected or hacked.