The revelation by WhatsApp that Indian scribes and human rights activists were targeted by an Israeli spyware took a political turn on Thursday, with Congress saying that the Narendra Modi government had been “caught snooping”. Hitting back, Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad reminded Congress of the bugging incidents in the office of former finance minister Pranab Mukherjee during the UPA regime.
“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 Gen VK Singh,” Prasad tweeted.
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.
S.C must take immediate cognisance & issue notice to BJP Govt.
— Randeep Singh Surjewala (@rssurjewala) October 31, 2019
Prasad’s retort comes hours after Congress urged the Supreme Court to hold the Centre accountable over the issue while saying that a government that treats its own citizens like criminals doesn’t have the right to lead in a democracy.
“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,” Congress’s 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 further said.
Later, Surjewala also posted questions on Twitter for 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.
The war of words come amid Facebook’s revelation that the Israeli NSO Group targeted some 1,400 WhatsApp users with Pegasus. While WhatsApp has declined to reveal the identities and “exact number” of those targeted for surveillance in India, its spokesperson told The Indian Express that WhatsApp was aware of those targeted and had contacted each one of them.
It is learnt that at least two dozen academics, lawyers, Dalit activists and journalists in India were contacted and alerted by WhatsApp that their phones had been under state-of-the-art surveillance for a two-week period until May 2019.