New Delhi: The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology’s finance division acknowledged that there could be a budgetary allocation of Pegasus licences, the spyware that targeted at least 300 phones from India according to recent investigative reports.
The acknowledgement comes after activist Saket Gokhale filed a RTI query to the ministry’s finance division and the computer emergency response team (CERT-IN) regarding budgetary allocation for Pegasus, after the recent row emerged.
Though CERT-IN said that it does not have any information pertaining to the query, the integrated finance division that the query is in its purview, acknowledging that it could have information regarding purchase of Pegasus by the Indian government.
“A suitable reply will be made by the undersigned (authority) in his capacity,” the finance division responded in mail to Gokhale.
The activist said that if no Pegasus licences had been purchased through budgetary allocation, the response from the Integrated Finance Division would have been “NIL” just like the response provided by CERT-IN.
“So yes – Pegasus licenses were purchased. To know for how much & how many, we’ll wait,” he said, in a tweet.
16 media organizations, including India’s The Wire, published an investigative report that over 1,000 Indian phones have been listed in a database of potential targets by the Pegasus spyware by Israeli’s NSO group.
The firm had said that it sold the spyware only to “vetted governments”. In line with this, it was revealed that phone numbers of former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, election strategist Prashant Kishor, journalists and activists that are particularly against the BJP-led government are found on the database that are targeted by the spyware.
However, IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, hours before his name was also found on the list, described the reports as “highly sensational” and an attempt to malign Indian democracy. Union Home Minister Amit Shah attempted to repurpose his infamous chronology comment and make vague remarks about a global conspiracy.