Retired Supreme Court judge Justice B N Srikrishna, who authored the first draft of the data protection bill in 2018, says the Narendra Modi government should probe the alleged phone hacking of ministers, politicians, activists and journalists, and also explicitly state if any of its agencies uses Israeli military-grade spyware Pegasus.
Justice Srikrishna, who was appointed by this government to identify and address issues in data protection in India in 2017, described the response of the government, which has thus far denied its involvement in any illegal surveillance as “unsatisfactory”.
“Even the French government has ordered an inquiry so we need to do that too,” said Justice Srikrishna. “I am not at all satisfied with the government’s response. They need to give a categorical answer about who’s behind the hacking.”
As unearthed by a collaborative investigation involving 17 media organisations, and reported by The Wire, which is one of the 17, the phone numbers of Union ministers Ashwini Vaishnaw and Prahlad Patel, opposition leaders Rahul Gandhi and Abhishek Banerjee, activists, and 38 journalists, including three from HT and one from its sister publication Mint, were potential targets of spyware.
While NSO Group, the Israeli firm that makes Pegasus, has maintained that only governments are its clients, India’s IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has called the investigation an “attempt to malign Indian democracy and its well-established institutions”.
Home minister Amit Shah has questioned the timing of the revelations that came out just a day before the start of the monsoon session of Parliament. “Aap chronology samajhiye! (Understand the chronology) This is a report by the disrupters for the obstructers. Disrupters are global organisations which do not like India to progress. Obstructers are political players in India who do not want India to progress,” he had said.
“It has nothing to do with timing. That is irrelevant,” said Justice Srikrishna. “An important question is being asked in Parliament and they (government) should answer it. That is how democracy is strengthened. They should give an open answer so that such issues are frankly dealt…