Leftwing portal The Wire on Sunday shared a list of 40 Indian journalists which it claimed were being snooped upon with a help of Israeli spyware called Pegasus.
The Indian government in its response trashed the report, stating that the allegations made in the report are based on conjectures and uncorroborated theories. Earlier today, the NSO Group, which owns the Pegasus spyware said it is considering filing defamation against The Wire for making outrageous allegations against them.
While the leftist online portal is long known for publishing prejudicial content against the Modi government, often without carrying out due diligence, the tenuous allegations of snooping has nevertheless brought to spotlight the time when Congress governments at the Centre used surveillance as a tool to keep a tab on politicians, including its own leaders.
RTI response reveals UPA-II surveilled more than 9,000 phones and 500 email accounts
A response to an RTI filed in 2013 revealed that the UPA government at the Centre was closely monitoring 9,000 phones and 500 email accounts, a report published in Newsroom Post says. The response was to an RTI filed by one Prosenjit Mondal.
The RTI reply says: “On an average, between 7,500 to 9,000 orders for the interception of telephones and 300 to 500 orders for the interception of emails are issued by Central Government per month whereas.”
Under the UPA government, not 10 or 20 but 9000 phones were tapped every month. This not only included eminent individuals but even their own leaders, including veteran Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee.
Congress-led government snooped on allies as well as its own leaders, including then FM Pranab Mukherjee
In January 2006, firebrand politician Amar Singh, the then general secretary of the Samajwadi Party, alleged that the Manmohan Singh government that came in power in 2004 had tapped his phone. Following the allegations made by Singh, other politicians such as Sitaram Yechury, Jayalalithaa, CB Naidu etc. also made similar allegations against the UPA government.
However, the most fascinating part about this incident is the response given by former PM Manmohan Singh. He said that the phone tapping was not done by his government but by a private agency. Later, a man named Bhupinder Singh was also arrested in the case.
Almost four later, in October 2009, the then Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee accused the CPM government in West Bengal of snooping on her. Banerjee’s allegations once again rekindled the debate surrounding the Centre’s use of surveillance against its opponents and other party leaders. The then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had then said that the government would come out clean on the allegations of snooping. However, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rejected the demand for a JPC in the matter.
A year later, in December 2010, PM Singh defended his government’s move to tap phones of corporate honchos. He cited grounds of national security, preventing tax evasion and money laundering as the reasons to justify phone tapping. The following day, he reportedly asked his cabinet secretary to look into the phone tapping case and fortify the legal framework to prevent such leaks.
In June 2011, the then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee wrote a letter to the PM asking him to conduct a secret inquiry into the bugging of his office. According to the reports, Mukherjee suspected that one of his cabinet colleagues was responsible for bugging his office.
Earlier last month, a Congress MLA in Rajasthan accused chief minister Ashok Gehlot of tapping his phone. Congress MLA from Chaksu in Rajasthan’s Dausa district, Ved Prakash Solanki said ‘many officials’ told him that the phones of legislators were being tapped. There are also efforts underway to “trap” MLAs, Solanki had alleged then.