Centre, Congress spar over WhatsApp breach row
Even as the names and testimonies of several people affected by this continued to emerge through the day, law and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad took to Twitter and said the government is concerned by the breachUpdated: Nov 01, 2019, 05:55 IST
The Congress on Thursday accused the government of using Pegasus surveillance software to monitor the WhatsApp chats and calls of political rivals.
Even as the names and testimonies of several people affected by this continued to emerge through the day, law and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad took to Twitter and said the government is concerned by the breach and the IT ministry has sought a reply from WhatsApp asking the platform owned by Facebook what it is doing to “safeguard the privacy of millions of Indian citizens”.
Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said that the breach was a “flagrant abuse of privacy by agencies” and that the party suspects that many opposition leaders and judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts are in this list. He asked SC to intervene in the matter.
Prasad,however, launched a counter attack through a statement posted on Twitter: “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 the UPA regime. Also a gentle reminder of the spying of the then Army Chief Gen V K Singh.These are instances of breach of privacy of highly reputed individuals, for personal whims and fancies of a family.”
His reference is to a 2011 incident when then finance minister Mukherjee had said that a search for snooping devices in his office did not lead to anything.
Prasad also mentioned a 2013 incident when then army chief alleged a bugging attempt at his residence after an official attempted to remove a phone connection post-retirement.
Prasad also said that all government agencies have a well established protocol for interception. This, he said, includes “sanction and supervision from highly ranked officials in central & state governments, for clear stated reasons in national interest”. Usually, agencies wishing to intercept or monitor someone’s devices will need clearance from the home secretary or state chief secretaries.
In the latest incident though, there was no interception but illegal monitoring of people’s phones.
The ministry of home affairs, interestingly, denied the breach and said that media reports about one were “attempts to malign the Government of India” and are “misleading”.
“Government of India is committed to protect the fundamental rights of citizens, including the right to privacy; and will take strict action against any intermediary responsible for breach of privacy. There are adequate safeguards to ensure that no innocent citizen is harassed or his privacy breached,” MHA said in a statement , released to the media barely minutes after Prasad’s tweet.