Raipur: Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel has formed a probe panel to investigate phone hacking complaints of Chhattisgarh-based right activists and also to look into a presentation Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO Group, which has been blamed for snooping, had made to top police officers in the state in 2017, according to an order issued in this regard.
Chhattisgarh’s principal secretary (home) Subrat Sahu would head the panel, which was formed on Saturday. The panel will also include Raipur’s inspector general Anand Chhabra and state public relations department director, Taran Prakash Sinha.
The panel has been asked to submit its report in one month. “We have received complaints that phones were hacked in Chhattisgarh with the help of a software…,’’ the order said.
Several rights activists, lawyers, and journalists on October 1 said that they had been identified as targets of phone hack aimed at snooping on them. It came a day after messaging services company WhatsApp went public with allegations against the NSO Group, which is known mostly as Pegasus, for having misused its platform to aid spying on around 1,400 people globally.
HT on October 2 reported that the people targeted in India included former Union minister Praful Patel and ex-Lok Sabha member Santosh Bhartiya. It later emerged that at least 121 people Indians were targeted. It was unclear how many of these snooping attempts were successful.
Four Chhattisgarh-based rights activists, Alok Shukla, Shalini Gera, Bela Bhatia, and Degree Prasad Chauhan, have alleged that their mobile phones were also targeted.
Shukla welcomed the government’s move to set up the probe panel. “I believe a thorough investigation should be conducted and people should come to know who authorised the snooping.”
The Congress on October 3 said that WhatsApp also informed the party’s general secretary, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, that her phone data was suspected to have been breached.
The order cited above referred to reports in a section of the media that the Israeli cyber intelligence company made the presentation at the state police headquarters about two to three years back. It added that the complaints of hacking indicate an infringement of the rights of the citizens. “…hence it should be investigated,” the order issued on Baghel’s behalf said.
The order, a copy of which HT has seen, said that the probe panel has been formed on the basis of media reports and complaints of the rights activists.
“We will investigate whether police used the spy software in Chhattisgarh? The chief minister is deeply concerned about the rights of citizens and action will be taken if anyone is found guilty,” said Sinha.
Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesman Sacchinand Upasane said that no illegal phone hacking or tapping was done under the rule of his party until late last year. “The BJP government did everything for the security of the state’s people. The incidents of phone tapping are going on under the Congress rule.”
Ram Sevak Paikara, who served as the home minister during the BJP rule, could not be reached for comments despite several attempts.
The NSO Group has insisted that it sells its spyware only to government authorities for “national security”.