Pegasus Snooping Issue Rocks Parliament

Representational Photo

New Delhi: The Pegasus snooping controversy rocked the Lok Sabha proceedings on Tuesday, leading to continued disruptions and repeated adjournments of the House.

Soon after the House assembled at 3 pm, the opposition members again started raising slogans on the Pegasus snooping issue, forcing the chair to adjourn the House for the day.

The Lok Sabha will now meet on Thursday after the Eid holiday.

This was the second day of the Monsoon Session that the House could not transact any legislative business. On Monday, the Opposition had disrupted the proceedings over a variety of issues, including price rise and three farm laws.

Earlier in the day, the House was adjourned twice after the Opposition created a ruckus over snooping and other issues.

Opposition members, including from the Congress and the TMC, started raising slogans and showing placards to attack the government on the snooping issue as soon as the House met for the day at 11 am.

The proceedings lasted for barely five minutes. The same scene was witnessed when the House reassembled at 2 pm.

One of the placards read that while people are suffering from unemployment, the government is busy with "jasoosi" (spying). The slogan was in Hindi.

Some Congress members were holding placards about Rahul Gandhi's name appearing in the list of potential targets of snooping.

Trinamool Congress (TMC) members alleged that party MP Abhishek Banerjee's phone number was selected for surveillance.

Abhishek Banerjee is the nephew of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

YSRCP members also flagged the issue of special status for Andhra Pradesh.

Speaker Om Birla said it is not right to disrupt the House and the government is ready to give answers on any matter.

"Please go back to your seats. I will facilitate a debate on every issue. (But) sloganeering is not right. The government is ready to debate on whatever issues you want to debate on," he said.

The issue of "snooping" using the Pegasus spyware has snowballed into a massive political row in Parliament and outside as various parties are demanding a thorough investigation and sacking of Home Minister Amit Shah, while the government maintains that it had nothing to do with it.

Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, BJP ministers Ashwini Vaishnaw and Prahlad Singh Patel, as also former election commissioner Ashok Lavasa and poll strategist Prashant Kishor were among those whose phone numbers were listed as potential targets for hacking through the Israeli spyware sold only to government agencies, an international media consortium has reported.

Rajya Sabha proceedings were also adjourned twice during the pre-lunch period on Tuesday after uproar by opposition members over various issues including the Pegasus snooping issue.

The House was first adjourned for a few minutes after it met in the morning and then again soon after it met at 12 PM.

Members of the Congress, TMC, left parties rushed to the well as the House reassembled at 12 and started raising slogans. They were also carrying placards with them.

Protesting members ignored the requests made by deputy chairman Harivansh to allow the Question Hour to function.

"Please go back to tour seats. Let the Question Hour continue. This is your time," he said urging the members to return to their seats and allow the House to function.

After continued uproar and sloganeering by opposition members, he adjourned the House till 1 PM.

He said members of various parties had met the Chairman, who decided that the House will take up a discussion on COVID-19 at 1 PM.

Earlier in the morning, opposition parties obstructed regular business over various issues, including the Pegasus snooping controversy.

Members of opposition parties, who had given as many as 15 notices under Rule 267 requiring setting aside of the business of the day to take up the issue they want to raise, raised slogans and rushed into the Well of the House, prompting chairman M Venkaiah Naidu to adjourn the proceedings till 12 noon.

The issues include alleged snooping of Opposition leaders, journalists and vocal critics of the government, fuel price rise and farmers' agitation against new farm laws.

No sooner had the House condoled the death of a former member, Ramadhar Kashyap, members of Congress, TMC, Left and DMK were up on their feet raising various issues.

With the chairman disallowing all the 15 notices as he did for the 17 served on Monday, Anand Sharma of the Congress said either the Rule 267 should be removed or the Chairman should consider notices given under them as long as it is there in the rule book.

"These are issues of concern. We should not only read about it in newspapers or see on television," he said.

Naidu said he agrees with Sharma. "There is a need for (rule) 267. I have been there in the House and I understand the problem of national security, something serious happens, you have to suspend the business and then take up that matter."

But this provided the Chairman goes through the notice and then admits it, he said adding the notices given on Monday and Tuesday largely relate to "variety of issues... some of them ongoing for a long time, some of them discussed earlier."

The Chairman said he had received 15 notices on various issues.

The Zero Hour is the time when members can raise issues on which they have given notices, he added.

But Opposition members were not convinced and started to rush to the Well as Naidu called for listed official papers to be laid on the table.

As they raised slogans, Naidu adjourned the proceedings.

Extremely Alarming: UN Rights Chief

The apparent use of the Pegasus software to spy on journalists, human rights defenders, politicians and others in a variety of countries is "extremely alarming" and the States concerned should take steps to protect against such "invasions" of privacy, the UN high commissioner for human rights said on Monday.

Politicians, rights activists and journalists were among those targeted in several countries including India, with a phone spyware sold to various governments by an Israeli firm, according to an international media consortium.

In a statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said governments should immediately "cease their own use of surveillance technologies" in ways that violate human rights, and should take concrete actions to protect against such "invasions" of privacy by regulating the distribution, use and export of surveillance technology created by others.

"Revelations regarding the apparent widespread use of the Pegasus software to spy on journalists, human rights defenders, politicians and others in a variety of countries are extremely alarming, and seem to confirm some of the worst fears about the potential misuse of surveillance technology to illegally undermine people's human rights," Bachelet said.

Media reports on Sunday claimed that spyware Pegasus was used to conduct surveillance on about 300 Indians, including ministers, political leaders, government officials and journalists.

The Indian government has categorically rejected the attack on it by the opposition parties in the wake of the snooping row, saying attempts were being made to "malign" Indian democracy.

Bachelet said various parts of the UN Human Rights system have repeatedly raised serious concerns about the dangers of authorities using surveillance tools from a variety of sources.

"Use of surveillance software has been linked to arrest, intimidation and even killings of journalists and human rights defenders. Reports of surveillance also have the invidious effect of making people censor themselves through fear," she said.

Bachelet said journalists and human rights defenders play an indispensable role in societies, and when they are silenced, everyone suffers.

"I would like to remind all states that surveillance measures can only be justified in narrowly defined circumstances, with a legitimate goal. And they must be both necessary and proportionate to that goal," she said.

Referring to the reports, the UN high commissioner for human rights said, "If the recent allegations about the use of Pegasus are even partly true, then that red line has been crossed again and again with total impunity."

She said companies involved in the development and distribution of surveillance technologies are responsible for avoiding harm to human rights and they need to take immediate steps to mitigate and remedy the harms their products are causing or contributing to.

"In addition to immediately stopping their own role in violations of human rights, States have a duty to protect individuals from abuses of the right to privacy by companies," she said.

"One key step to effectively prevent abuse of surveillance technology is for States to require by law that the companies involved meet their human rights responsibilities, are much more transparent in relation to the design and use of their products, and put in place more effective accountability mechanisms," she added.

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