The committee will do its duty and that the subject – Pegasus spyware is already on the mandate of my committee, says Shashi Tharoor, who heads the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology. The Congress leader told The Indian Express there was no need to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee to look into the disclosures since the standing committee and the JPC have identical rules.
Tharoor said the Centre has been saying that they have done no unauthorized surveillance. “But if they are implying that there was authorized surveillance, then they will have to explain on what basis it was authorized,” he said. “It is an active issue and until the committee has reported I cannot speak in my capacity as chairman. As an individual MP, I can say that this is an issue of utmost gravity and seriousness for Indian democracy.”
The Congress leader pointed out that the allegation is that a government agency has been using a software intended for tracking criminals and terrorists, and used it for the partisan political benefit of the ruling party. “That is the implied allegation. Because if you look at the list of people who have been tapped, the figures are either Opposition politicians or journalists, or people of other kinds of similar interest to the ruling party such as the Ranjan Gogoi harassment case family, the lady and her family, secretaries of leaders and so on.”
Tharoor added that the laws are very clear about surveillance. He said interception of communications is only supposed to be authorized on grounds of national security or the prevention of a crime. “There are rules and procedures governing that. If you read the IT Act of 2000, sections 43 and 66 read together, hacking, which is to introduce any malware or spyware into a computer device, computer network etc. is actually against the law which is punishable by three years in prison or 5 lakhs or both.”
Given that hacking is not legal under the IT Act, Tharoor highlighted that either the government says that no unauthorized events took place, which means either it authorized it but in that case whoever authorized it runs up against the blatant illegality of the authorization. “Otherwise, if our government didn’t do it, some other government had to have done it because NSO claims that the software is only sold to governments. And that too governments that are vetted by them and then approved by the Israeli government.”
Tharoor explained that in these circumstances, either way it is serious. “Either somebody in the Indian government has broken Indian laws, and assaulted our democracy, or a foreign government is intruding upon Indian politics and Indian public life by snooping on our people.” The MP said that either way, a serious investigation is warranted.