At least two dozen academics, lawyers, Dalit activists and journalists in India were informed by WhatsApp that they were under surveillance.
Whatsapp users

WhatsApp announced it was suing NSO Group for offering the technology that allowed spies to hack into phones.
WhatsApp has confirmed that an Israeli spyware, called Pegasus, was used by operators to spy on journalists and human rights activists in India. In a new report by The Indian Express, a WhatsApp spokesperson said that WhatsApp was aware of those targeted and had reached out to them, but the Facebook-owned company has declined to reveal the identities and "exact number" of those who were targeted.

Update: IT Ministry has written to WhatsApp and is seeking a response on the spyware issue by November 4, a senior givernment official told PTI.


Comment: Govt asks WhatsApp to explain snooping, hits back at Opposition criticism
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The union minister said, "The government is committed to protecting the privacy of all Indian citizens. The government agencies have a well-established protocol for the interception, which includes sanction and supervision from highly ranked officials in central and state governments, for clearly stated reasons in the national interest."

Reacting to the Congress's attack on the Narendra Modi government, the government hit back at the party, bringing up the former President Pranab Mukherjee's office bugging incident when he was the finance minister in the UPA regime in 2011.

After the WhatsApp snooping scandal emerged, the Congress alleged the Modi government was "caught snooping" and urged the Supreme Court to hold the Centre accountable over the issue.

"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's chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said in a tweet.

Hitting back at the Congress, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, "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."



The latest disclosure by WhatsApp comes after the company announced earlier this week that it was suing NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm that is reportedly behind the technology that helped government spies to hack into phones of roughly 1,400 users. These users span across four continents and included diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior government officials.

"Indian journalists and human rights activists have been the target of surveillance and while I cannot reveal their identities and the exact number, I can say that it is not an insignificant number," a WhatsApp spokesperson told The Indian Express.

The spyware requires the target to click on an exploit link which then allows the operator to penetrate security features on the phone and installs Pegasus without the user's knowledge. The operator can then control the phone and gain access to private information like passwords, contact lists, calendar events, text messages from popular mobile messaging apps, the report adds.

Of the 1,400 users affected, at least two dozen were academics, lawyers, Dalit activists and journalists in India. WhatsApp had contacted and alerted the targets that they had been under "state-of-the-art surveillance for a two-week period until May 2019." In May, WhatsApp updated the app and launched a probe into how the hack worked and affected people.