IT Ministry Says It Did Not Allocate Any Budget to Purchase Interception Software

On Monday, the defence ministry had said that it did not have any dealings with NSO Group, the company that sells Pegasus.

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New Delhi: The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) told the Lok Sabha on Wednesday that it has not allocated any budget to purchase software that could be used to “intercept, monitor, decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource, as permitted under Section 69 of the Information Technology Act”.

Minister of state Rajeev Chandrasekhar was responding to a question by Congress MP Karti Chidambaram. MeitY’s response came two days after the defence ministry told the Rajya Sabha that it did not have any transactions with Israel’s NSO Group, which sells Pegasus. The military-grade spyware had caused a storm during the monsoon session of parliament after The Wire and 15 other international media organisations revealed that Pegasus was misused to target activists, politicians and journalists.

NSO Group says that it sells the spyware only to “vetted governments” and that it is used to tackle terrorists and criminal gangs.

As The Wire had noted, lawful surveillance in India is primarily authorised by the Union home ministry and state home departments. The use of Pegasus would involve hacking, which is illegal under Indian laws.

On Twitter, Chidambaram pointed out that the minister’s response to his question makes it clear that while MeitY did not allocate any budget for the purchase of software that could be used to intercept, it does not deny that other ministries could have allocated budgets for this purpose.

Curiously, though the defence ministry and MeitY have responded to questions about Pegasus, the Union government had moved to disallow a question asking the external affairs ministry if it had entered into an MoU with NSO Group. The government had claimed that the matter is sub judice and Rajya Sabha rules prevent members from asking for information that is under adjudication by a court of law.

During the entire length of the monsoon session, the Union government refused to cede to the opposition’s demands to discuss possible illegal snooping through Pegasus. Both houses of parliament were adjourned sine die on Wednesday, two days ahead of schedule.

While Chidambaram claimed that the Lok Sabha’s “website has removed all answers” for Wednesday, an official of the Lok Sabha secretariat told The Print that “no questions were uploaded” on the website as the House was adjourned sine die soon after it met. “Even if one or two questions are taken up before adjourning the House, it is considered that the answers have been laid… But today the House was adjourned soon after it met. Since the question hour could not be taken up, as per rules all questions listed today are considered as lapsed,” the official added.