The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology (IT) is slated to meet on Wednesday to discuss issues of invasion of privacy and WhatsApp. According to reports, this meeting comes after WhatsApp earlier this month revealed that journalists and activists in India have been the target of surveillance by operators using the Israeli spyware Pegasus.
The Facebook-owned messaging company stated that it remains committed to protecting all messages of its users even as opposition parties accused the Centre of "snooping" on journalists and activists.
Amid the raging controversy, the government has asked WhatsApp to come out with an explanation on the breach of privacy and list out measures that have been taken to safeguard the privacy of millions of Indians.
Earlier, maintaining that the government was concerned about the breach of privacy of Indians, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on October 31 said that WhatsApp had been asked for an explanation in this regard. He was referring to WhatsApp’s revelation that phones of roughly 1,400 individuals across the world were hacked using the Israeli spyware ‘Pegasus’ earlier this year. Reports suggest that journalists, academics and human rights activists were among those users who were targeted in India.
The hackers were able to install the surveillance software on phones of the targets on WhatsApp. According to reports, the target of the hack received audio or video calls from unknown callers, which is ignored, allowing the hacker to be installed in their mobile device. The Pegasus software-enabled hackers to access the details on the phone, including the text messages and location of the target. India, with 400 million users, is the biggest market for WhatsApp.
The contentious software, Pegasus, that was meant for government use on a per-license basis stirred the political spectrum as the opposition mounted serious allegations on the government. However, the Cyber & Information Security (CIS) division of the Ministry of Home Affairs stated that no information was given to purchase the Israeli spyware. In response to an RTI application, the Home Ministry as per reports said, "It is informed that no such information is available with the undersigned CPIO." The spyware Pegasus came under scanner after it was reportedly used to snoop on slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia officials.
(With ANI inputs)