New Delhi: The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has not allocated any budget to purchase software to “intercept, monitor, decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource, as permitted under Section 69 of the Information Technology Act”, Minister of State Rajeev Chandrasekhar said in a written reply to the Lok Sabha Wednesday.
Section 69 of the IT Act oversees “power to issue directions for interception or monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource”.
Chandrasekhar was responding to a query from Congress MP Karti P. Chidambaram, who had sought details of the budget allocated, if any, to purchase such a software.
The question comes in light of the Pegasus scandal uncovered by a global media consortium that has brought several governments around the world, including India’s, under the lens for potential snooping attempts against journalists, activists, politicians and lawyers, among others.
The expose is centred on a list of 50,000 phone numbers that were allegedly identified as potential snooping targets.
Pegasus, described as a military-grade spyware, has been made by the Israel-based NSO Group, which claims to only license the technology to law enforcement and intelligence agencies of “vetted governments”.
While the NSO Group has denied the allegations, the Opposition in India has staged protests through the ongoing Parliament session, which began 19 July, demanding an inquiry as well as reply from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah on the matter.
The government has dismissed the matter as a non-issue. In a statement laid in Parliament last month, Union IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said there is “no substance behind the sensationalism”, and hit out at media reports about the scandal.
In light of the ruckus in Parliament, the Lok Sabha was adjourned sine die Wednesday, two days before the session is scheduled to conclude.
On Monday, replying to another question in the Rajya Sabha, the Union Defence Ministry also said it had not had any transaction with NSO Group.
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‘Answers removed from LS website’
The MeitY’s reply stoked a controversy Wednesday as Chidambaram alleged that the Lok Sabha Secretariat “website has removed all answers for today”.
Curiously the @LokSabhaSectt website has removed all answers for today, including this one@KartiPC #Pegasus #PegasusSnoopgate pic.twitter.com/iMEu2wOYmE
— Karti P Chidambaram (@KPCinParliament) August 11, 2021
However, an official in the Lok Sabha Secretariat denied the claim, saying “no questions were uploaded on the Lok Sabha website as the House was adjourned sine die soon after it met at 11 am today”.
“Even if one or two questions are taken up before adjourning the House, it is considered that the answers have been laid,” the official said, not wanting to be named. “But today the House was adjourned soon after it met. Since the question hour could not be taken up, as per rules all questions listed today are considered as lapsed,” the official added.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)
Also Read: Pegasus: Global media calls out NSO, seeks robust oversight of ‘unrestrained’ spyware industry