Interim Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Saturday criticised the Centre over the WhatsApp hacking of at least two dozen individuals, including lawyers, human rights activists, and journalists, saying such activities are “illegal, un-constitutional and shameful”. She made the remarks at the meeting of the party’s general secretaries and state in-charges in Delhi.

“There are so many other issues of which you will be aware,” she said. “The latest shocking revelation that through the Israeli Pegasus software acquired by the Modi government, snooping and spying activities on activists, journalists and political persons have taken place. These activities are not only illegal and un-constitutional, they are shameful.”

Bharatiya Janata Party working president JP Nadda criticised Gandhi for her comments. He asked who at 10 Janpath had authorised the surveillance of former President Pranab Mukherjee and then Army chief VK Singh during the United Progressive Alliance government. He added that the government has already clarified its stand on the matter.

Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, who is currently lodged in Tihar jail in a corruption case, pointed that Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group had said it worked exclusively with government intelligence agencies. “The truth is that there is an unknown government within the known government,” Chidambaram’s tweet, posted by his family on his behalf, said. “And the known government does not know about the unknown government within it.”

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday said the Centre should probe the privacy breach in WhatsApp that has affected several prominent users in India, PTI reported. She also alleged that her phone was regularly tapped by the Union government.

Banerjee called the matter “very serious” and said she will request Prime Minister Narendra Modi to have it investigated. “My phone is tapped, I know that because I have got the information and have the evidence with me,” she said. “The government knows it because it is they who are doing it. This is happening at the behest of the central government and two three state governments. I will not name the states but one is a BJP ruled state.”

“Nothing is safe now, not even WhatsApp,” the chief minister added. “Earlier, we thought WhatsApp can’t be intercepted. But, now even WhatsApp has not been spared. Neither the landline phones nor mobile phones are safe. There is total espionage going on [in the country],” she said.

On Friday, WhatsApp said it had in May informed government authorities about a privacy breach that affected some Indian users. The government countered this and said that the information shared was only about a technical vulnerability but nothing on the fact that privacy of users had been compromised.

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.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, who is in charge of the IT ministry, said on Thursday that the government was concerned about the breach, and that state agencies have a well-established protocol for interception for clearly stated reasons in national interest.

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?

Now, follow and debate the day’s most significant stories on Scroll Exchange.