Two parliamentary panels to take up WhatsApp snooping case

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Two parliamentary panels headed by Congress leaders have decided to examine the WhatsApp snooping case and will seek details from top government officials including the Home Secretary.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp on Thursday said Indian journalists and human rights activists were among those globally spied upon by unnamed entities using an Israeli spyware Pegasus.

Describing the entire WhatsApp snooping episode as worrisome, Congress leader Anand Sharma, who chairs the parliamentary standing committee on Home Affairs, said this issue will be taken up at the panel’s next meeting on November 15.

The Home Secretary is scheduled to brief the panel on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir in the next meeting. “In that meeting, this issue will also be discussed and we will seek details from the Secretary,” Mr. Sharma said.

Concerned about the development, Shashi Tharoor, who heads the parliamentary standing committee on Information Technology, said the panel would share its concerns.

He said he will consult other members by email on the matter.

“Cybersecurity is a major issue on our agenda and we are definitely going to take this up under that rubric. We will be seeking clarifications from the government”, Mr. Tharoor said.

He said as the WhatsApp NSO issue has emerged in the open, it is important to ensure that no other social media platform can be used similarly, and the panel will seek to learn how the government can ensure that.

“It is vital that as a democracy, India remains vigilant about the risk of our freedoms being eroded by technological means. We must not, at any price, become a surveillance state like China”, he said.

Meanwhile, WhatsApp had said it was suing NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm, that is reportedly behind the technology that helped unnamed entities hack into the phones of roughly 1,400 users.

These users span across four continents and include diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior government officials.

Union Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has asked WhatsApp for a report on the allegations.

Facebook owned WhatsApp has over 1.5 billion users globally, of which India accounts for about 400 million.

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