IT Ministry seeks WhatsApp's response on spyware issue by Nov 4
The IT Ministry on Thursday sought a detailed response from WhatsApp on the issue of an Israeli spyware that was allegedly used to target Indian journalists and human rights activists through its platform.
WhatsApp has been asked to submit its reply by November 4.
The Ministry has written to the Facebook-owned messaging company, seeking its response on the matter, a senior government official told PTI.
On Thursday, Facebook-owned WhatsApp said Indian journalists and human rights activists were among those globally spied upon by unnamed entities using an Israeli spyware Pegasus.
WhatsApp said it was suing NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm, which 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.
However, it did not say on whose behest the phones of journalists and activists across the world were targeted.
Denying allegations, NSO said it provides "technology to licenced government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to help them fight terrorism and serious crime" and is not "designed or licensed for use against human rights activists and journalists."
"The truth is that strongly encrypted platforms are often used by paedophile rings, drug kingpins and terrorists to shield their criminal activity. Without sophisticated technologies, law enforcement agencies meant to keep us all safe face insurmountable hurdles. NSO's technologies provide proportionate, lawful solutions to this issue," it said.
It said any use of the product other than to prevent serious crime and terrorism was a misuse.
"We take action if we detect any misuse. This technology is rooted in the protection of human rights - including the right to life, security, and bodily integrity - and that's why we have sought alignment with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, to make sure our products are respecting all fundamental human rights," it said.
WhatsApp had on Tuesday filed a lawsuit in a California federal court against NSO Group, which allegedly developed the spyware, saying an attempt was made to infect approximately 1,400 "target devices" globally, including some in India, with malicious software to steal valuable information from those using the messaging app.
WhatsApp said it "believes the attack targeted at least 100 members of civil society... this number may grow higher as more victims come forward.”
WhatsApp has over 1.5 billion users globally, of which India alone accounts for about 400 million.
(Disclaimer: Additional background information has been added to this PTI copy for context)
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)