In a significant development in the leaked snooping reports, it has been revealed that the phone numbers of former deputy chief minister of Karanataka G Parameshwara and the personal secretaries of former CMs H D Kumaraswamy and Siddaramaiah were selected as potential targets of surveillance, ahead of the toppling of the opposition-run state government in July 2019, The Wire reported.
The report is based on the media portal’s review of records of numbers that were of interest to an Indian client of Israel’s NSO group, that sells its Pegasus spyware which is reportedly used for hacking into a smartphone – a crime under India law – to governments only.
These numbers are part of a leaked database of about 50,000 individuals, accessed by the French media non-profit Forbidden Stories, which was shared with an international media consortium as part of the Pegasus Project. The database identified by the project had earlier revealed that phone numbers of around 300 Indians were in the list, including prominent journalists, human rights defenders, civil society members, and lawyers worldwide.
Notably, neither the Narendra Modi-led government nor the NSO group has denied the possibility of India being a customer of the group, with several concerned sections raising questions on the government’s continued silence on the matter.
As per The Wire report, “The records indicate that the phone numbers of some of the key political players in Karnataka appear to have been selected around the time when an intense power struggle was taking place between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress-led state government in 2019, after 17 ruling alliance’s legislators abruptly resigned to force a trust vote in the Assembly.”
It added that the period during which the numbers were put under surveillance coincides “with the selection of a new number Rahul Gandhi began to use after discarding an earlier one he had been operation, and which had been on the list of potential spyware targets since 2018”.
Also read: Is it the Last Flight for Pegasus? [Part-I]
While stating that there is no conclusive evidence to prove whether these phone were infected or subjected to an attempted hack in the absence of digital forensics, The Wire stated that the
“timing surrounding their selections as possible candidates for surveillance is crucial”, in view of the allegations that “the BJP, actively backed by the Union government, was attempting to topple the coalition government led by JD(S)- Congress, by poaching their party legislators”.
It should be noted that all the rebel MLAs had subsequently joined BJP and were nominated as candidates by the right-wing in the by-polls following the fall of the Kumaraswamy-led government.
The Wire report added that the leaked data included two phone numbers belonging to Satish, the personal secretary of then CM H D Kumaraswamy. It stated that while he did not comment on his number being found on the list, he did confirm that he was using the phone number during the period.
Another number in the list belonged to former Congress CM Siddaramaiah’s personal secretary Venkatesh. As per the report, this is even more significant as Siddaramaiah does not use a personal phone. While confirming that he was using the phone number in the list, Venkatesh told The Wire, “I don’t know whether my phone was a target for snooping. All I can say is that I don’t do anything illegal. If what you are claiming is true, it is wrong and I strongly condemn such an action.”
The report also noted the inclusion of the phone number of policeman, Manjunath Muddegowda, who was security personnel of former Prime Minister and JD(S) president H.D. Devegowda, in the leaked records during the same period in 2019
G Parameshwara, whose number was included this period, told The Wire that he was puzzled by this as he was “not involved in any political management at the time”.