Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh has made serious allegations against Devendra Fadnavis-led government, accusing the former BJP government of tapping the phones of opposition leaders during the assembly elections 2019. Deshmukh also alleged that Fadnavis dispensation misused government machinery for the snooping.
The minister has ordered a probe into the matter and the cyber cell of the state police department is to look into the complaints of phone-tapping and snooping of the opposition leaders. The NCP leader also alleged the phones of Uddhav Thackeray, Sharad Pawar and Sanjay Raut were being tapped.
"There is no doubt that the previous dispensation has misused the government machinery to tap of phones of leaders from opposition parties. There were reports that some officers were sent to Israel to study the snooping software. We are finding out who had gone to Israel and whether there was any official engagement," Deshmukh said, according to PTI.
In response to the snooping allegations, Raut said a senior BJP leader had warned him about the phone tapping. "Your phone is being tapped. This was told to me by a senior BJP minister earlier. I told him whoever wishes to listen to my conversations is free to do so. I am a disciple of Balasaheb Thackeray, I don't do anything secretly," Raut tweeted on Friday.
Prior to Deshmukh's allegations, Congress leader Digvijaya Singh had accused the former Fadnavis-government of phone tapping and demanded details of the officers who went to Israel for training on the controversial snooping software, Pegasus.
Fadnavis denies claims
The opposition has responded to the remarks made by Deshmukh. Fadnavis denies the allegations of phone tapping and demands the investigation findings be made public at the earliest.
"Tapping phone is not Maharashtra's political culture and the state government had never given any such orders. About those who have complained, everyone knows how trustworthy are they," Fadnavis said.
"But if the government wants to do an investigation they are free to do that. People of Maharashtra know the truth. Shiv Sena had a Minister of State in the Home Ministry. I can only request that they should do an investigation at the earliest and make that report public. If need be, they should go to Israel and conduct an investigation," he added
What is Pegasus and why is it such a big deal?
Pegasus is a brainchild of an Isreal-based firm, NSO Group. The software is used for cyber-espionage, targeted for surveillance on people's phones. Pegasus is touted as a government-focused product to fight terrorism and crime, but recent revelations by WhatsApp made it clear that it was used to spy on thousands of people.
With such high-scale targeted spying, the government was put under a lot of pressure and the matter was taken up for discussion at the parliament. Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad defended the Centre during his Raj Sabha address in November last year and said the government is committed to keeping the data of people safe.
Even WhatsApp is suing NSO Group for breaking its end-to-end encryption using Pegasus. Pegasus can be installed on any phone if the user clicks on a link created by the operator. No further permissions would be needed from the user's end after the link is clicked. The spyware would be able to retrieve all the sensitive information, including passwords, texts, contacts, even listen to live calls from popular messaging apps.