Maharashtra government has constituted a two-member committee on Monday to probe into the complaints of phone tapping made by a number of political leaders including Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Chief Sharad Pawar and Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut. They have alleged that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) used police machinery to keep a watch on political opponents especially during the formation of the new three-party government in state.
In a press note issued on Monday, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said, “The power of keeping phone on surveillance commonly referred to as Phone Tapping and the authority to take out Phone related records like call data record etc has alleged to have been grossly misused by the authorities specially in the last one year for vested interest and political gain. This abuse of power has serious implications with respect to national security and right to freedom and privacy as enshrined in the Constitution of India.”
To probe will not be just into “the legal documentation but also to take support of technical experts to decipher if unofficial surveillance has been carried out by tracing the foot-print in the serves of various telecom companies through physical verifications and visits”.The probe will be conducted by Additional Home Secretary Shrikant Singh and Amitesh Kumar, IPS joint secretary commissioner of intelligence.
Sources told NewsClick that the enquiry into the matter will have various political implications in not just Maharashtra but across India. The authority given to probe into unauthorised surveillance carried out by authorities and empowering committee to visit the telecom companies physically is expected to touch upon the issue of Pegasus as well.
WhatsApp, a US-based messaging application owned by Facebook has filed a complaint in a US district court accusing Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO of breaching 1,400 cellphones with the purpose of surveillance. WhatsApp has also clarified that it had informed the users personally about the possibility of surveillance and suggested switching cellphones as soon as it came to knoe about the breach.
Various reports have said that about 15 persons from India had received messages from WhatsApp, majority of whom are related to the Bhima Koregaon case. So, there were allegations from the lawyers of the accused in the case that Maharashtra Police (which was probing the case till then) had used Pegasus software to snoop on them. Congress leader Digvijay Singh had also alleged that some police officers were trying to frame him in the Bhima Koregaon case and that some officers had even gone to Israel to understand the technology.
“There was buzz in Maharashtra a few months back that the 'system' is being overused for the political purpose. One can remember that Bhima Koregaon accused were also blamed for planning PM Modi’s killing. Now whether the accusations by the police hold any truth can be found out,” said a senior officer from the Home Ministry of the state.