New Delhi: Hours after WhatsApp confirmed that an Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group was behind the spyware technology that helped the spies of unnamed entities hack into the phones of Indian journalists and human rights activists, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday expressed at the breach of privacy of citizens and said the Central government is committed to protecting the privacy of all Indian citizens. Also Read - Congress Slams Centre Over WhatsApp Spygate Row, Says ‘Modi Govt Caught Snooping’
“The Government of India is concerned at the breach of privacy of citizens of India on the messaging platform WhatsApp. We have asked WhatsApp to explain the kind of breach and what it is doing to safeguard the privacy of millions of Indian citizens,” he said. Also Read - WhatsApp: NSO Group used state-of-art Pegasus spyware to target Indian Journalists, and more
He said that the 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 the national interest.
“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. Also a gentle reminder of the spying over the then Army Chief General VK Singh,” he said, adding, “These are instances of breach of privacy of highly reputed individuals, for personal whims and fancies of a family.”
The statement from the union minister comes after the Congress earlier in the day slammed the Central government for the breach of privacy of Indian journalists in the wake of the incident.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said in a tweet that the situation is appalling but not surprising as the Modi government has been ‘caught snooping.’ He also went on to say that the Supreme Court must take immediate cognisance and issue a notice to the BJP government.
“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 a notice to BJP government,” Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said in a tweet.
“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 in another tweet.
As per media reports, over 1,400 users were targeted upon by the spies. Investigations have also revealed that the users who were preyed upon span across four continents and were mostly diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior government officials. Taking cognisance of the matter, the Facebook-owned company WhatsApp said it has sued the alleged NSO Group.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Home Affairs has issued a statement saying it will take action against any intermediary for breach of privacy.
“Some statements have appeared based on reports in media regarding breach of privacy of Indian citizens on WhatsApp. Attempts to malign the government for reported breach are completely misleading. The Central government will take action against any intermediary for breach of privacy,” it said in a statement.