With WhatsApp revealing that Indian scribes and human rights activists were among users targeted by an Israeli spyware, the government on Thursday asked the Facebook-owned messaging platform to explain the breach and list out measures that have been taken to safeguard privacy of millions of Indians.
IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad tweeted that the government is committed to protecting the privacy of Indian citizens. He asserted that government agencies have a "well-established protocol for interception which includes sanction and supervision from highly ranked officials in central and state governments, for clear stated reasons in national interest".
"The Government of India is concerned over the breach of privacy of citizens of India on the messaging platform WhatsApp. We have asked WhatsApp to explain the kind of breach and what it is doing to safeguard the privacy of millions of Indian citizens," Prasad said.
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The government is committed to protecting fundamental rights of citizens and reports of breach of people's privacy are an attempt to malign India, home ministry officials said on Thursday in the wake of the WhatsApp snooping controversy.
The officials also said the government will take strict action against any intermediary responsible for breach of privacy of citizens.
"Some statements have appeared based on reports in media, regarding breach of privacy of Indian citizens on WhatsApp. These attempts to malign the government of India for the reported breach are completely misleading," an official said.
The official said the central government is committed to protecting the fundamental rights of citizens, including the right to privacy.
"It is clarified that the government of India operates strictly as per provisions of law and laid down protocols. There are adequate safeguards to ensure that no innocent citizen is harassed or his privacy breached," the official said.
Hitting out at the Opposition, Prasad said those trying to make political gain out of it should be reminded of bugging incidents in the office of former finance minister Pranab Mukherjee during the UPA regime, as also spying over then Army Chief General V K Singh.
"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 V. K. Singh," Prasad said.
Earlier on Thursday, the Congress alleged that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi government has been "caught snooping" after WhatsApp said journalists and human rights activists in India have been targets of surveillance, and urged the Supreme Court to hold the Centre accountable over the issue.
Facebook-owned messaging platform said Indian journalists and human right activists were among those globally spied upon by unnamed entities using an Israeli sypware Pegasus.
WhatsApp said it was suing NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm, that is reportedly behind the technology that helped unnamed entities' 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.
The information technology ministry has meanwhile sought a detailed response from WhatsApp on the issue and asked the platform to submit its reply by November 4.