The government on Thursday expressed concern about the security breach by messaging platform WhatsApp in which several prominent Indian journalists, lawyers and activists in the country were targeted for surveillance for a two-week period until May. Union Minister of Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad said the messaging platform has been asked to explain the breach and the measures taken to strengthen the privacy of Indian citizens.
So far, Scroll.in has confirmed the identities of 14 of the targeted individuals. Some of them suggested that Indian government agencies may have been involved in the surveillance, as they were informed by a Canada-based cyber security group that is assisting WhatsApp in investigating the spyware attack.
In a series of tweets, the minister said the government is committed to protecting the privacy of citizens. Prasad added that state agencies have a well-established protocol for interception for clearly stated reasons in the national interest.
He also highlighted the alleged surveillance scandals under the Congress government. “Those trying to make political capital out of it need to be gently reminded about the bugging incident in the office of the then eminent Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee during UPA regime,” Prasad said. “Also a gentle reminder of the spying over the then Army Chief Gen VK Singh,” he added. “These are instances of breach of privacy of highly reputed individuals, for personal whims and fancies of a family.”
Earlier in the day, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology asked WhatsApp to respond by November 4 about the security breach.
WhatsApp on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against NSO Group, an Israeli cyber intelligence firm whose spyware Pegasus was used to target around 1,400 users globally during a two-week period in May. NSO Group has disputed the allegations but said it has sold its spyware only to government agencies.
The Indian individuals who were targeted include Chhattisgarh-based Adivasi rights activist Bela Bhatia, Shalini Gera, Academic and write Anand Teltumbde, Nagpur-based lawyer Nihalsing Rathod, human rights activist Degree Prasad Chauhan, former BBC journalist and now peace activist Shubhranshu Choudhary, People’s Union for Democratic Rights activist Ashish Gupta, Chandigarh-based lawyer Ankit Grewal, Seema Azad, an activist with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Social and environmental activist Vivek Sundara, Journalist Sidhant Sibal, Strategic analyst Rajeev Sharma, activist Rupali Jadhav and assistant professor of Political Science at Delhi University Saroj Giri. Scroll.in is in the process of identifying others affected by the security breach.
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