West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday urged the centre to launch an investigation into messaging service WhatsApp's announcement that unnamed entities had used Israeli spyware to snoop on journalists and human rights activists.
"This is very serious. I will request Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ensure that the matter is probed," she said, citing reports alleging central involvement in the snooping row.
The Trinamool Congress chief described the situation in the country as "quite serious". "Where is our freedom of speech? What independence do we have now that we cannot even talk freely over the phone? Somebody is listening to everything we say," news agency PTI quoted her as saying. "We used to think that WhatsApp messages can't be intercepted, but even that hasn't been spared. Neither landline phones nor mobile phones are safe - it's total espionage."
Ms Banerjee also accused the centre of tapping her phone on multiple occasions. "My phone was tapped, and I know that because I have the information and evidence with me. The government knows it because they are the ones doing it. This is happening at the behest of the central government and two-three state governments. I will not name the states, but one of them is ruled by the BJP," she said.
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had also hit out at the centre over the snooping row at a party meeting earlier on Saturday, terming such activities as "illegal, unconstitutional and shameful".
"There are so many other issues that you may be aware of. The latest shocking revelation that through the Israeli Pegasus software, acquired by the Modi government, snooping and spying activities on activists, journalists and political persons have taken place. These activities are not only illegal and unconstitutional, they are shameful," she said.
Facebook-owned WhatsApp had said on Thursday that Indian journalists and human rights activists were among those globally spied upon by unnamed entities using Israeli spyware called Pegasus. The company said that it is suing NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm behind the controversial program, for allegedly helping unnamed entities hack into phones of roughly 1,400 users worldwide.
Pegasus allegedly takes over the phone's operating system during a video call, giving attackers access to users' messages, calls and passwords. It can even turn the mobile phone into a microphone capable of listening to conversations in a room.
WhatsApp has over 1.5 billion users across the globe, of which India accounts for about 400 million.
(With inputs from PTI)