Give a detailed report: Govt to WhatsApp amid snooping row

Congress slams Modi govt for snooping on activists, scribes.

New Delhi: The Congress on Thursday alleged that the Modi government has been “caught snooping” after WhatsApp said that journalists and human rights activists in India have been targets of surveillance.

While the Congress urged the Supreme Court to hold the Centre accountable over the issue, the government denied allegations of snooping in the wake of claims made by Facebook-owned WhatsApp that Indian journalists and human rights activists were among those globally spied upon by unnamed entities using an Israeli sypware, Peagasus.

“Modi govt caught snooping! Appalling but not Surprising! After all, BJP Govt — 1. Fought against our right to privacy. 2. Set up a multi-crore Surveillance Structure until stopped by SC. SC must take immediate cognisance and issue notice to BJP government,” Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said in a series of tweets.

“A government that spies on journalists/activists/Opposition leaders and treats its own citizens like criminals has lost the right to lead in our democracy. We urge the SC to take suo motu cognizance of these illegal activities and to hold this government to account,” he said.

He also posted questions on Twitter for information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad over the issue.

“1. Which agency of GOI has purchased and deployed the Pegasus Surveillance Software? 2. Who — PMO or NSA — authorised the purchase? 3. What action do you intend on taking against the guilty?” he asked.

Issuing a clarification on the contentious issue, the government stated, “Some statements have appeared based on reports in media regarding breach of privacy of Indian citizens on Whatsapp. These attempts to malign the Government of India for the reported breach are completely misleading.” The statement further added, “Government of India is committed to protect the fundamental rights of citizens, including the right to privacy, and will take strict action against any intermediary responsible for breach of privacy.”

The government has asked the messaging platform to explain the breach and list out measures that have been taken to safeguard the privacy of millions of Indians. The response is expected by November 4.

Mr Prasad hit out at the Opposition, saying those trying to make political gain out of the issue should be reminded of bugging incidents in the office of former finance minister Pranab Mukherjee during the UPA regime, as also spying over then Army Chief General, V.K. Singh.

He asserted that government agencies have a “well-established protocol for interception which includes sanction and supervision from highly ranked officials in central and state governments, for clear stated reasons in national interest”.

WhatsApp said it is suing NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm that is reportedly behind the technology that helped unnamed entities’ spies to hack into phones of roughly 1,400 users worldwide.

These users span across four continents and included diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior government officials. However, it did not say on whose behest the phones of journalists and activists across the world were targeted.

These reports have once again given ammunition to the Opposition to target the government over privacy in the upcoming winter session of Parliament.

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