Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Friday asked the government to respond to reports that several Indian lawyers, activists and scholars were targets of a WhatsApp spyware attack in May.

“If the BJP or the government has engaged Israeli agencies to snoop into the phones of journalists, lawyers, activists and politicians, it is a gross violation of human rights and a scandal with grave ramifications on national security,” Gandhi tweeted.

So far, 19 individuals have confirmed to that they were targeted by the spyware. According to Hindustan Times, at least 41 individuals, including former Union minister Praful Patel and former Lok Sabha MP Santosh Bharatiya, were targetted.

On Thursday, former Congress President Rahul Gandhi had mocked the government, saying its notice to WhatsApp was like asking Dassault about the people who “made money on the sale of Rafale jets to India”. The Congress alleged that the government has been “caught snooping” and should be taken to the Supreme Court to ensure accountability.

Earlier in the afternoon, Union Minister of Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad had hit out at the Opposition party, accused it of snooping on “highly reputed individuals” at the instance of one family during its time in power. In a series of tweets, the information technology minister said the government was committed to protecting the privacy of citizens.

Activist and lawyer Prashant Bhushan has said he is planning to file a public interest litigation plea in the Supreme Court to seek an inquiry into the reports of hacking. According to the lawyer, Prasad’s statement showed that the surveillance was ordered unofficially, and therefore, illegally.

WhatsApp’s case

WhatsApp filed a lawsuit against Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group on Tuesday, accusing it of helping government spies break into the phones of roughly 1,400 users, including political dissidents, journalists and government officials during a two-week period in May. NSO has denied the allegations.

India is WhatsApp’s biggest market, with 400 million users. The platform is globally used by some 1.5 billion people monthly and has often touted a high level of security, including end-to-end encrypted messages that cannot be deciphered by WhatsApp or other third parties.

Also read: Can the government confirm it did not use WhatsApp spyware on Indians?

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