Two mobile phones used by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi were selected as potential surveillance targets by an official Indian client of the Israeli surveillance technology vendor NSO Group, according to a report published in The Guardian.
Also, phones belonging to at least five of Rahul Gandhi’s aides and other party leaders were identified as potential targets of the spyware, report has stated.
Election manager Prashant Kishor's was another notable name in the list of 300 verified Indian numbers, according to the British daily.
A forensic analysis by Amnesty's Security Lab on June 14 was said to have found that the phone of Kishor, a political strategist most recently involved in Mamata Banerjee's victorious Bengal campaign, was indeed hacked using Pegasus.
The examination found that Kishor’s phone calls, emails and messages were being monitored throughout the final weeks of the Bengal elections in April.
Kishor said the findings were "really disappointing". "Those who did [the hacking] were looking to take undue advantage of their position of power with the help of illegal snooping," The Guardian quoted Kishor as saying.
*Two* serving government ministers, Ashwini Vaishnaw and Prahlad Singh Patel. There was also at least one number used by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. 6/— Joanna Slater (@jslaternyc) July 19, 2021
The two numbers of Rahul Gandhi, which he has since given up, appear to have been selected for targeting from mid-2018 to mid-2019 when the Lok Sabha elections were held.
“Targeted surveillance of the type you describe whether in regard to me, other leaders of the opposition or indeed any law-abiding citizen of India is illegal and deplorable,” Rahul was quoted as saying by The Guardian. “If your information is correct, the scale and nature of surveillance you describe go beyond an attack on the privacy of individuals. It is an attack on the democratic foundations of our country. It must be thoroughly investigated and those responsible be identified and punished.”
As the Congress made attempts to take up the snooping row to the Parliament on Monday, Rahul tweeted: "We know what he's been reading-everything on your phone! #Pegasus."
With this, he tagged his July 16 tweet saying: "I'm wondering what you guys are reading these days."
Among other targets of Pegasus are two current Union Ministers -- Prahlad Patel and Ashwini Vaishnaw, according to another report published in The Wire.
In the case of Prahlad Patel, the report said, the leaked list had phone numbers not just of him and his wife but 15 people linked to him, including his cook and gardener.
Patel, who represents Damoh Lok Sabha seat of MP, was allotted the Jal Shakti ministry under Gajendra Singh Shekhawat in the recent Cabinet reshuffle. He was a minister of state (Independent) for Tourism and Culture earlier.
Ashwini Vaishnaw appears to have been targeted back in 2017 before he sided with the BJP. Another number, apparently listed in the name of his wife, also appears to have been selected by Pegasus.
More than 300 verified mobile phone numbers, including those of two serving ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders, and one sitting judge besides scores of business persons and activists in India could have been targeted for hacking through Israeli spyware sold only to government agencies, an international media consortium had earlier reported on Sunday.
However, the NSO Group, an Israeli company that sells Pegasus spyware worldwide, denied all allegations and reports of such surveillance in India.
The Indian government too dismissed allegations of any kind of surveillance on its part on specific people, saying it "has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever".
Asserting that "India is a robust democracy that is committed to ensuring the right to privacy to all its citizens as a fundamental right", the government dismissed the media report as an attempt to play "the role of an investigator, prosecutor as well as jury".
The report was published by The Wire news portal from India as well as 16 other international publications including the Washington Post, Guardian and Le Monde as media partners to an investigation conducted by Paris-based media non-profit organisation Forbidden Stories and rights group Amnesty International into a leaked list of more than 50,000 phone numbers from across the world that are believed to have been the target of surveillance through the Pegasus software of Israeli surveillance company NSO Group.
The Wire reported that forensic tests conducted as part of the media investigation project on a small cross-section of phones associated with these numbers revealed clear signs of targeting by Pegasus spyware in 37 phones, of which 10 are Indian.
The initial report came just a day before the start of the Monsoon Session of Parliament on Monday and has created quite a storm.