After SC order on Pegasus, Rahul Gandhi says Oppn's stand vindicated, steps up attack on government
He said the Supreme Court's opinion on Wednesday 'basically supported' what the Opposition parties had been saying and they will again raise the issue in Parliament demanding a debate on it.
NEW DELHI: The "use" of Israeli spyware Pegasus was an attempt to crush Indian democracy and the Supreme Court order appointing a three-member panel of cyber experts to probe the snooping allegations is a "big step" that will help bring out the truth, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said on Wednesday.
Addressing a press conference here after the Supreme Court hearing, Gandhi fired a fresh salvo at the Modi government as he contended that only the prime minister or the home minister could have ordered the use of Pegasus spyware, and said that if the PM was "using this as a personal tool", then it is "totally criminal".
He said the Supreme Court's opinion on Wednesday "basically supported" what the Opposition parties had been saying and they will again raise the issue in Parliament demanding a debate on it.
The opposition had disrupted proceedings during the last monsoon session with vociferous protests over the Pegasus issue after an international investigative consortium claimed that many Indian ministers, politicians, activists, businessmen and journalists were potentially targeted by the Israeli company NSO Group's phone hacking software.
In a suo motu statement in Parliament, IT and Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw had dismissed the reports, saying that with several checks and balances being in place, "any sort of illegal surveillance" by unauthorised persons is not possible in India.
He had said the allegations levelled just ahead of the monsoon session are aimed at maligning Indian democracy. Gandhi on Wednesday said that they had raised the Pegasus issue during the last Parliament session "because we felt that it was an attack on the democratic structure, on the foundations of our nation".
"We had jointly blocked Parliament. And today the Supreme Court has given its opinion and basically supported what we were saying," the former Congress chief said.
"We were asking three basic questions -- who authorised Pegasus, which agency, which person authorised Pegasus as we all know Pegasus cannot be bought by a private individual, it has to be bought by a government; the second question was who was it used against and the final thing was, did any other country have access to information of our people," he said.
No answers were given to these questions, Gandhi alleged. "We welcome the Supreme Court order in the Pegasus matter. It is not a matter of politics, it is an attack on the democratic structure of the country, on the people and on their freedom.
"Only two people can direct this attack and when the truth comes out they will have no answers," the Congress leader later said in a tweet in Hindi.
The Pegasus is an "attempt to crush Indian democracy and make sure that the vibrancy of the democracy, the conversation that takes place in a democracy are crushed and the people are controlled", Gandhi told reporters He said it is a "big step that the Supreme Court has said that they are going to look into this matter. I am confident that we will get the truth out of this".
Responding to a question, Gandhi said he hoped the Supreme Court will do its job and provide justice.
"But this is a deeper problem. If the prime minister is using this as a personal tool, if the data is arriving on the prime minister's desk, then that is totally criminal, and we will follow that up," he said.
Gandhi also claimed that the government of Karnataka was toppled using the Pegasus spyware and central institutions of the country were being "attacked" using the spyware.
"We all know that is not the only attack that is taking place, there are many different ways in which the idea of India is being attacked.
"Pegasus is of course a particularly nasty and a subversive way of doing it. It is a way basically to control the politics of the country, to frighten people, to blackmail them not allowing the democratic process to work," he alleged.
The Congress is happy that the Supreme Court has accepted to look into this," he said "We will raise this again and we will try to have a debate in Parliament.
I am sure the BJP will not like that debate so they will make sure that debate is stalled but we will try to hold that debate," he said.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday appointed a three-member panel of cyber experts to probe the alleged use of Pegasus for surveillance of certain people in India, saying every citizen needs protection against privacy violation and mere invocation of "national security by State" does not render the court a "mute spectator".
Finding material that "prima facie merits consideration", a bench comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli declined to allow the Centre to appoint an expert panel on its own, saying such a course would violate the settled judicial principle against bias.
Three experts on cyber security, digital forensics, networks and hardware were roped in by the Supreme Court to "enquire, investigate and determine" whether Pegasus spyware was used for snooping on citizens and their probe would be monitored by former apex court judge R V Raveendran.
The experts -- Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, Prabaharan P and Ashwin Anil Gumaste -- would report to Justice Raveendran.