Expressing concern at the breach of privacy of Indian citizens on the messaging platform Whatsapp, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad today said that the messaging service company has been asked to submit a detailed explanation about the breach and the actions taken by it to bolster the privacy of Indian citizens. The development comes after it was revealed that journalists and human rights activists in India have been targets of surveillance by operators using Israeli spyware Pegasus.
Prasad assured that the government is committed to preserving and safeguarding the privacy of Indians, claiming that the government had asked WhatsApp to explain the kind of breach and what it is doing to safeguard the privacy of millions of Indian citizens. He further added, “Government agencies have a well-established protocol for the interception, which includes sanction and supervision from highly ranked officials in central and state governments, for clearly stated reasons in the national interest.” This is an apparent response to allegations that the government was behind the snooping using the spyware.
In response to Congress’ criticism of the Modi government over the snooping scandal, Prasad hit back at Congress by reminding them of the incident when the former President Pranab Mukherjee’s office was bugged when he was the finance minister in the UPA government in 2011, as well as spying over the then Army Chief General V.K Singh. He further alluded that these dignitaries were put under surveillance on the orders of the Gandhi family.
Facebook-owned WhatsApp today reportedly confirmed that Israeli spyware called ‘Pegasus’ was used to spy over two dozen academics, lawyers, journalists and Dalit activists in India. The targeted snooping took place during the run-up to the 2019 General Elections in May 2019. ‘Pegasus’ is developed by Israel’s NSO Group to conduct cyber espionage. Whatsapp has said that it will soon sue the NSO group for infiltrating its systems.