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Pegasus scoop, farm laws continue to rock Houses

IT minister sees conspiracy amid furore over snooping

New Delhi, July 22 (UNI): Rubbishing the alleged claims of using Pegasus spyware to snoop on opposition leaders, journalists, members of the Cabinet, among others, Union IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw on Thursday vehemently ruled out any unauthorised surveillance.

The minister’s defence comes amid furore over snooping that washed out the third day of the monsoon session with almost no business. The Opposition unitedly protested against the Pegasus scoop, farm laws and few other issues in both the Houses of Parliament.

Vaishnaw noted that the company whose technology was allegedly used has denied these claims outrightly. He also said the publishers of the reports themselves could not back their claims.

Vaishnaw suggested conspiracy behind the series of reports saying their publication a day before the onset of the monsoon session of Parliament “cannot be a coincidence”.

He added that similar claims were made regarding the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp in the past but were categorically denied by all parties, including in the Supreme Court.

However, he failed to continue further due to the pandemonium and submitted his statement to Deputy Chairman Harivansh Rai who was at the Chair.

In the Lok Sabha, Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhatt was allowed to introduce the Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021 that seeks to replace Essential Defence Services Ordinance, 2021 promulgated on June 30.

Minister for Ports, Shipping and Waterways Sarbananda Sonowal was also permitted to introduce The Inland Vessels Bill, 2021 that seeks to replace the Inland Vessels Act, 1917.

But both the ministers failed to apprise the House about the bills due to unabated protest by the Opposition and frequent disruptions.

The Upper House witnessed disruptions on Thursday as well with opposition leaders demanding the government to clear the air around the alleged surveillance and other major issues. The House saw noisy scenes and uproar as members of the opposition Trinamool Congress tore papers and flung them into air.

The Pegasus controversy has dominated the headlines in the last four days bringing the government and opposition face-to-face. It all started when a consortium of media houses from across various countries published leaked database of 50,000 phone numbers suggesting that individuals linked to those phone numbers were being spied upon with the help of Pegasus spyware developed by an Israeli company NSO Group.

The NSO Group has, however, maintained that the claims are based on misleading interpretation of leaked data from basic information such as HLR Lookup services, which have no bearing on the list of the customers’ targets of Pegasus or any other NSO products.

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