The Congress on Thursday urged the Supreme Court to immediately intervene and act against the Centre’s Narendra Modi government after it emerged that Israeli spyware was used to snoop on several Indian journalists and civil rights activists in April and May this year. The government is accused of using Israeli spyware Pegasus to compromise mobile phones of Indian journalists and activists critical of the government policies.
Randeep Singh Surjewala of the Congress wrote on Twitter, “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.”
His subsequent tweet read, “A Govt. that spies on journalists/activists/Oppo leaders & treats its own citizens like criminals has lost the right to lead in our democracy. We urge the S.C to take suo moto cognizance of these illegal activities and to hold this Govt to account.”
Meanwhile, NDTV has reported that the Facebook-owned platform confirmed that it had contacted several journalists and activists to inform them that they were targets of surveillance by Israeli spyware for a two-week period until May this year.
The revelation assumed significance since the Supreme Court is currently hearing the matter on whether the government has the right to access and monitor WhatsApp communication by on the pretext of national security. WhatsApp has maintained that it doesn’t store its users’ call/text data since communications made on its platform were fully encrypted.
In August 2017, a nine-judge Supreme Court bench had ruled that the right to privacy was a fundamental right.
WhatsApp and its parent Facebook have sued the Israeli NSO Group, the manufacturer of the spyware, alleging that the Israeli company used malware to hack into the mobile phones of 1,400 people and conduct surveillance.
Usually, Pegasus sends a link to a user it intends to snoop on. Soon after the user clicks the link, his or her phone is comprised as the malware allows the hacking of phone calls, text messages and even the use of the camera to take live photos of locations that the user is visiting. However, on this occasion, Pegasus was believed to have targeted users by simply giving them missed calls.
The government has yet to react to this extraordinary development.