The WhatsApp snooping case, which according to the Facebook-owned messaging app compromised the privacy of 121 Indians, mainly consisting of journalists and human rights activists in India by the Israeli spyware Pegasus, was taken up by Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday in Rajya Sabha. Stating that the Government is committed to safeguarding the data, Prasad said the Centre will try to make messaging platforms more secure.
The case came to limelight after WhatsApp decided to sue the Israeli surveillance company last in October, claiming it had discovered more than 1,400 of its users around the world, who were targeted by NSO technology in a two-week period in May.
As discussions on cyber snooping continued in Rajya Sabha on Thursday, Congress leader Digvijaya Singh questioned the government on who was spied upon using the software. “What was the Government’s role? They should tell the House if people were spied upon. The government should tell us which journalists, activists were targeted in the breach. This is a violation of right of privacy.” To this, Prasad replied, “Digital players, both Indian and foreign are welcomed to contribute in the growing market but must understand that safety & security of Indians is of prime importance.”
Countering the Centre’s claims, Singh demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe the breach. “I appeal to all the parties to constitute a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) and investigate this sensitive issue as it is connected to our fundamental rights and national security.”
Congress leader Anand Sharma said Whatsapp snooping is a larger issue and asked if the government agencies made unauthorised use of the spyware. Responding to Sharma, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, ” any violation of established procedure, it is actionable and as of now, no unauthorised inception has been done. ”
Prasad assured the Opposition saying the government is committed to the data security of its people. “On 5 September, 2019 WhatsApp wrote to CERT-In providing update to the security incident reported in May 2019 stating that while the full extent of this attack may never be known, WhatsApp continues to review the available info. It also mentioned that based on WhatsApp data available, they believe that the attackers may have attempted to reach the devices of approximately 121 users in India. We are striving towards making messaging platforms more secure.”
Earlier this month Congress had alleged that the phones of three opposition leaders, including Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, were hacked by the government. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had made a similar claim. Congress said, Praful Patel, a former Union minister from Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party was also one of the politicians whose phone was hacked by the spyware.
“A perusal of the website of the NSO Group reflects that ‘Pegasus’ spyware and all NSO products are exclusively sold to Government only. In fact, NSO Group has written to ‘Citizen Lab’ (Munk School of University of Toronto) stating clearly that, ‘Our product is licenced to government and law enforcement agencies for the sole purpose of investing and preventing crime and terror. It is, thus, clear that Government of India and its agencies brought the spyware. It could neither be bought nor deployed by any private operator,” Randeep Surjewala had said addressing a press conference on November 3