The Whatsapp logo and binary cyber codes are seen in this illustration taken November 26, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration(REUTERS)
The Whatsapp logo and binary cyber codes are seen in this illustration taken November 26, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration(REUTERS)

Chhattisgarh panel says no govt link to WhatsApp snooping case involving activists

According to Citizen’s Lab report in October 2019, a Canada-based organisation that conducts research on cyber security, Pegasus and WhatsApp hacks were used in India by a group calling itself Ganges to target journalists and activists.
Hindustan Times, Raipur | By Ritesh Mishra
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2020 01:35 PM IST

A panel appointed by the Chhattisgarh government to probe alleged snooping of WhatsApp messages of the four activists in the state has so far not found any evidence linking any government official to the snooping, officials said on Monday.

According to Citizen’s Lab report in October 2019, a Canada-based organisation that conducts research on cyber security, Pegasus and WhatsApp hacks were used in India by a group calling itself Ganges to target journalists and activists. The targeting by Ganges had “political themes”, according to Citizen’s Lab.

As names of four Chhattisgarh based activists was on the list, state chief minister Bhupesh Baghel set up a panel headed by principal secretary, home, Subrat Sahu, to find out whether the previous Bharatiya Janata Party government had bought the software Pegasus, from Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO for snooping.

The panel was formed on November 11, 2019, and was to submit a report in 30 days. More than 45 days after the panel was constituted, an official privy to the investigation by the panel, said they have taken statements of the officials to whom NSO had allegedly made a presentation and had also conducted an internal inquiry.

“No concrete evidence was found regarding a presentation done by NSO in Chhattisgarh. There was no proof of any police officer having brought the software from NSO,” the official quoted above said.

A member of the panel said, “We have scanned all documents and conducted internal probe but nothing as such was found hence probe hit a wall. The issue was reported by a section of media after which the CM has ordered an inquiry.”

Both of them said that the probe will be completed soon and a report will be submitted to the government.

Taran Prakash Sinha, a member of the panel and director of public relation said the probe was on. “I will not comment on the findings. A report will be submitted to the government soon,” Sinha said.

Several rights activists, lawyers, and journalists on October last year said that they had been identified as targets of phone hack aimed at snooping on them.

It came a day after messaging Services Company WhatsApp went public with allegations against the NSO Group, which is known mostly as Pegasus, for having misused its platform to aid spying on around 1,400 people globally.

Four Chhattisgarh-based rights activists, Alok Shukla, Shalini Gera, Bela Bhatia, and Degree Prasad Chauhan, have alleged that their mobile phones were targeted.

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