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Indian bishop condemns Pegasus spying scandal

Bishop Lobo says alleged government snooping on citizens is 'completely unethical'

Indian bishop condemns Pegasus spying scandal

Congress party workers try to cross police barricades as they take part in a demonstration in New Delhi on July 20 against the government’s alleged surveillance using Pegasus spyware. (Photo: AFP)

Media reports claim that Israel-made spyware Pegasus was believed to have been used to track more than 300 Indian phone numbers including those of journalists, politicians, government officials and rights activists.

The Israeli cyberweapon company NSO Group was also fined in 2019 for hacking phones of around 1,400 users around the world, including 121 Indians.

“It is completely unethical as we have the fundamental right to privacy given by the constitution of India and spying on someone’s private life is a threat to the citizens of a democratic country,” Bishop Salvadore Lobo of Baruipur, chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India’s office of social communications, told UCA News.

“We can understand when the government sometimes spies on some social elements when it thinks that they pose a threat to national security, but targeting only some particular group or person is unacceptable and the government should investigate the latest issue.

“I am happy that some media people and activists are coming from the front and asking for answers from the ruling government about the Pegasus controversy, which is good for democracy and the secular fabric of this country.”

Meanwhile, The Wire website reported that opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, federal minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, journalists, activists and Gagandeep Kang — a professor at Vellore’s Christian Medical College who is one of the country’s leading virologists — were possible targets of surveillance using the Pegasus hacking software.

The leaked list that contains more than 50,000 phone numbers was accessed by Paris-based media group Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International

Kang was a possible target of surveillance in 2018 while tackling the Nipah infection. 

The leaked list that contains more than 50,000 phone numbers was accessed by Paris-based media group Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, which shared it with 17 news organizations as part of the Pegasus Project.

Almost 40 Indian journalists were on that list, including Financial Times editor Roula Khalaf as well as reporters from The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Le Monde and CNN.

Media reports said the list also contained the numbers of poll strategist Prashant Kishor, former election commissioner of India Ashok Lavasa, Trinamool Congress leader Abhishek Banerjee and a former Supreme Court judge.

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Randeep Surjewala, spokesperson for the Congress party, blamed federal home minister Amit Shah for the invasive surveillance. “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,” he said.

However, Ashwini Vaishnaw, federal information technology minister, claimed that illegal surveillance was not possible in India. 

“The government of the day has yet to deny the Pegasus exposure — instead they are blaming the opposition for the disclosure of it,” A.C. Michael, a human rights activist, told UCA News.

“From day one this government is known for controlling its opponents through these means. Keep a close watch on them and compile a file, then arm-twist them to agree to their way in parliament or on such matters that would keep the government in power. I sense this is another method they follow.

“The time has come for we Indians to decide whether we want a government that serves the people who have chosen them as their representatives or a government that snoops on us.”

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