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- Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based journalism nonprofit, shared the list with news outlets
- The media outlets verified the identities of around 300 Indian phone numbers listed as potential targets for surveillance during 2017-2019 by an official Indian client of the NSO Group
- It is not known how many phones on the list have been targeted for surveillance or how many attempts were successful
A number of prominent Indian politicians including Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, journalists, activists and government critics are suspected to be potential targets of spyware made by Israeli surveillance technology vendor, NSO Group, reports suggested on Monday.
On Sunday, 16 media outlets, including The Washington Post, The Guardian and Le Monde reported on the connection between the Israeli-based NSO Group and a list of tens of thousands of phone numbers, including of activists, journalists, business executives and politicians.
The leak involved over 50,000 phone numbers believed to be connected to people of interest by NSO clients since 2016, according to news outlets. However, it is unclear how many devices were actually monitored.
The NSO Group’s Pegasus malware can activate the camera or microphone on a smartphone and harvest data from it.
Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based journalism nonprofit, shared the list with news outlets.
According to the group of media outlets that examined the list, there were at least 1,000 Indian phone numbers among more than 50,000 around the world selected as possibly of interest to clients of the NSO Group, the maker of the Pegasus spyware.
The media outlets verified the identities of around 300 Indian phone numbers listed as potential targets for surveillance during 2017-2019 by an official Indian client of the NSO Group.
According to The Washington Post, which is part of the ‘Pegasus Project’, it is not known how many phones on the list have been targeted for surveillance or how many attempts were successful.
As per the expose published on Sunday, 40 Indian journalists and activists apparently had their phones bugged and monitored using Israeli spy software.
Later, the expose revealed a list of politicians and ministers whose phone numbers were potentially targeted for surveillance, some of which were allegedly peeped at successfully.
Here is the list:
- Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi – The Wire reported that at least two cell phone numbers used by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi have been flagged as potential targets by an Indian client of Israel’s NSO Group. Gandhi was apparently of such interest to the authorities that the numbers of five of his social acquaintances and friends were also listed as possible targets. Significantly, Gandhi’s phones are not among those examined since he no longer uses the phones he used between mid-2018 and mid-2019 when his numbers appear to have been selected for targeting.
- In addition to Gandhi’s own personal phone numbers, his aides, Alankar Sawai and Sachin Rao’s numbers are also included in the leaked database. As a member of the Congress Working Committee, Rao is responsible for training party cadres. Sawai typically spends the bulk of his working day with Rahul Gandhi since he is attached to his office.
- Union Minister for Railways, IT and Communications Ashwini Vaishnaw and his wife – Ashwini Vaishnaw was recently inducted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as his Communications, Electronics and Information Technology, and Railways Minister. The former Odisha-cadre Indian Administrative Service officer and Rajya Sabha MP Vaishnaw was reportedly targeted for possible surveillance in 2017. According to the report, another number, apparently listed in the name of his wife, was also selected.
- Union Minister of State for Jal Shakti Prahlad Singh Patel – The MP from Madhya Pradesh’s Damoh was recently shifted to the Jal Shakti Ministry under Cabinet Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, where he held an independent charge. The leaked list also contains phone numbers of his wife, political and office associates in Damoh, private secretaries, and even his gardener and cook.
- Pradeep Awasthi, the personal secretary to BJP leader Vasundhara Raje, when she was Rajasthan Chief Minister
- Sanjay Kachroo, who served as an Officer on Special Duty (OSD) to the then Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani from 2014-2015. Kachroo, a corporate executive, never got formally appointed. His father and minor son’s phone numbers also appear in the leaked data.
- Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s leader Pravin Togadia, whose phone number was allegedly tapped throughout 2018
- Abhishek Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress MP and national general secretary of the party. He is also the nephew of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee
- Election strategist Prashant Kishor
- Former election commissioner Ashok Lavasa
- Top scientist and virologist Gagandeep Kang
- M Hari Menon, who leads the India Office of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
- Association of Democratic Reforms head Jagdeep S Chhokar
- Former Delhi University Professor SAR Geelani’s phone number was found to be infected between 2017 and 2019
- Rona Wilson and his co-accused in the Elgar Parishad case Hany Babu Musaliyarveettil Tharayil were also on the list. Others on the list from the Elgar Parishad case include academic and civil liberties activist Anand Teltumbde, retired professor Shoma Sen, rights activist Vernon Gonsalves, journalist and rights activist Gautam Navlakha, lawyer Arun Ferreira, and academic and activist Sudha Bharadwaj.