The Congress on Thursday hit out at the BJP led Central government over the "flagrant abuse of privacy" and the "snooping, spying and compromising" after WhatsApp said several Indian users had been targetted by Israeli spyware Pegasus earlier this year and demanded a Supreme Court-monitored inquiry into the "blatant illegal hacking" of phones.
Randeep Singh Surjewala, Incharge AICC Communications said, "India woke up today to the bone-chilling news of flagrant abuse of privacy by agencies of the present BJP government."
"Modus operandi was snooping, spying and compromising the cell phones of journalists, Dalit, political and human right activists, lawyers, academicians and many more through a surveillance software called 'Pegasus' of the Israeli Agency, NSO. We suspect that many opposition leaders and judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts are in this list," he said.
"The spyware 'Pegasus' not only reaches the WhatsApp but is able to turn over the phone's camera and microphone to capture all activities in the vicinity of the phone, besides hacking all the security features of the phone, including listening to and sending passwords, contact lists, calendar events, text messages and live voice calls. Of course, all it is done without the permission or knowledge of the owner of the phone," Surjewala said.
Hitting out at BJP and Ravi Shankar Prasad, Surjewala said, "Facebook, owner of WhatsApp, has admitted that nearly 1,400 people, majority of them are Indians, have been affected by the phone hack of the 'Pegasus' spyware. The number may actually be much much larger as admitted by the Facebook itself as they have been unable to pinpoint the exact number of phone hacked by this spyware."
"BJP Government has maintained a conspiratorial silence on the entire issue with the Information and Broadcasting Secretary as also all others refusing to respond. Finally, the Communications and I & B Minister, Shri Ravishankar Prasad has responded late in the evening through tweets stating that "Government has asked Whatsapp as to how has the snooping happen". Strategically, this is "pot calling the kettle black"," Surjewala said.
The Congress Spokesperson said that 'Right to Privacy' of the citizens has been an anathema to the majoritarian BJP government. Over the last five years, the BJP Government has done everything to crush the right of citizens, including every dissenting voice.
"It is time to remind the Nation that the present BJP government opposed the "Right to Privacy' to be read as part of the fundamental rights. It, in fact, argued that no Indian should have a 'Right to Privacy' until the Supreme Court overruled and declared 'Right to Privacy' as a fundamental right. BJP Government also sought to place a 'multi-crore surveillance structure' until its designs were stopped by the intervention of the Supreme Court," he said.
He further said that instead of digressing from the issue of illegal, unconstitutional and unauthorized surveillance of citizens of India by asking WhatsApp to explain, let Ravishankar Prasad and the BJP government, who are sworn in to protect the Constitution answer the following questions.
"Firstly, which agency of the Government of India has purchased and deployed the 'Pegasus' surveillance software? Second, Who - the PM or the NSA - authorized the purchase of 'Pegasus' surveillance software? and third what action would the Government take against those guilty of illegally and unconstitutionally hacking the telephones and spying on journalists, Dalit, political and other activists, lawyers, academicians, opposition leaders and judges?" the Congress spokesperson asked.
"We urge upon the Supreme Court to take suo moto cognizance of this brazen and blatant illegal hacking of telephones and introduction of the spyware by the BJP government agencies and conduct a court-monitored inquiry," he added.
Earlier in the day, taking to Twitter, Union information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the government is concerned at the breach of privacy of citizens of India on WhatsApp and has sought a detailed explanation from the messaging platform."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 tweeted.