The Modi government has been "caught snooping" after WhatsApp said journalists and human rights activists in India have been targets of surveillance, the Congress alleged on Thursday and demanded a Supreme Court-monitored probe into the "illegal hacking" of cellphones.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said India woke up today to a bone chilling news of "flagrant abuse" of privacy by agencies of the present BJP government
"We urge upon the Supreme Court to take suo moto cognisance of this brazen and blatant illegal hacking of telephones and introduction of spyware by the BJP government agencies and conduct a court-monitored inquiry," he said.
The Facebook-owned messaging service has said Indian journalists and human rights activists were among those globally spied upon by unnamed entities using an Israeli sypware Pegasus.
"The modus operandi was snooping, spying and compromising cellphones of journalists, Dalit activists, political and human right activists, lawyers, academicians and many more through a surveillance software called ''Pegasus'' of Israeli agency NSO.
"We suspect that many opposition leaders and judges of the Supreme Court and high courts are on this list," Mr Surjewala said.
Pegasus is able to turn on a phone's camera and microphone, crack the device's security and send passwords, contact lists, calendar events, text messages and live voice calls, the Congress leader claimed.
"Of course, all this is done without the owner's permission or knowledge. Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, has admitted that nearly 1,400 people, majority of them Indians, have been affected by the ''Pegasus'' spyware.
"The number may actually be much much larger, as admitted by Facebook, which has been unable to pinpoint the exact number of phones hacked by the spyware," he said.
Mr Surjewala said the BJP government has maintained a "conspiratorial silence" on the entire issue with the Information and Broadcasting Secretary and others refusing to respond.
Minister of Telecommunications Ravi Shankar Prasad in a tweet said," Government has asked WhatsApp to escape snooping"."Strategically, this is ''pot calling the kettle black," he said.
But, Mr Surjewala said the ''Right to Privacy'' has been an anathema to the majoritarian BJP government and over the last five years it has done everything to "crush" the right of the citizens, including dissenting voices.