West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday claimed that Israeli spyware firm NSO Group had approached the state police four-five years ago to sell its surveillance software ‘Pegasus’. “The NSO Group had come to our police department 4-5 years ago to sell their machine (Pegasus spyware) and demanded Rs 25 crore. I turned it down as it could have been used politically, against judges and officials, which is not acceptable,” said Banerjee.
It is noteworthy that senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader from West Bengal, Anirban Ganguly, last month had alleged that the Mamata Banerjee-led state government has been using Pegasus since the beginning of its tenure in 2016. In July 2021, the Indian government was accused of running an illegal surveillance program to spy on opposition leaders and journalists using Pegasus. According to a news report, the names of these 40 personalities had appeared on a list of potential targets of snooping using Pegasus.
Union IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw had responded to the opposition allegations in Parliament and said “there is no substance behind the sensationalism”. In a written reply, Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhatt told Rajya Sabha that the Defense Ministry did not have any transaction with NSO Group Technologies.
The matter is subjudice in Supreme Court. The top court had earlier set up a technical expert committee to look into the allegations of snooping against the Centre.
The opposition’s protests over the issue during the monsoon session of the Parliament had resulted in the suspension of business in both houses several times.