WhatsApp privacy breach: Spyware Pegasus was used to snoop on activists, journalists, political dissidents; state home minister promises probe
Four months after WhatsApp made a sensational disclosure that Israeli spyware Pegasus was used to snoop on some Indian citizens (see box), senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh claimed yesterday that the Maharashtra government officials had visited Israel to purchase the technology.
Digvijay, 72, the two-time chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, urged the state government to probe whether the spyware was purchased at the behest of any politician or party. Congress ally NCP’s Anil Deshmukh, who’s the home minister of Maharashtra, assured an inquiry will be initiated.
WhatsApp in October sued the Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group, which founded Pegasus, that helped unnamed entities hack into roughly 1,400 mobile phones across at least 20 countries, including India. Those targeted included diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior government officials. However, WhatsApp did not say at whose behest the phones were targeted.
In Maharashtra, around a dozen people linked to the Bhima-Koregaon case, such as Anand Teltumbde, Nihal Singh Rathod, Rupali Jadhav, Vivek Sundara, Jagdish Meshram and Veera Sathidar were victims of snooping.
Digvijay, who was in Mumbai yesterday, claimed to have information that “a few officers from Maharashtra” had visited Israel to procure the spyware.
“Were the officers instructed by the (then) chief minister, or some minister, or were they on their own? Was the software purchased directly from NSO? If the purchase was made, there should be clarity on how many people connected to the Bhima-Koregaon case were snooped on?” he asked. Digvijay said that the Chhattisgarh government (a few activists from that state were also spied on) had already initiated a probe and he will provide information to the state government if asked to. “I am ready to cooperate with the home minister and provide him with all the information. This is a very serious breach,” he said, adding that he had asked the Centre to initiate such a probe as well.
Deshmukh, whose party is a part of the three-party alliance in the state, said the senior Congress leader’s allegations will be probed. “Digvijay Singh has made certain allegations against a few officers from Maharashtra. We will investigate, and if any official is found guilty, stern action will be taken,” Deshmukh said.
The state government yesterday transferred 20 IAS officers as part of the routine transfers. Also transferred was IPS officer Brijesh Singh, considered close to former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.
Singh, who was Special Inspector General of Police (Cyber) and director general, Directorate of General Information and Public Relations, will now only hold the post of IG, Cyber.
HOW PEGASUS WORKS
The spyware Pegasus can be installed on devices running certain versions of iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system, and Android devices. The phone user receives a link, and the moment it is clicked, Pegasus secretly enables a jailbreak on the device to read text messages, track calls, collect passwords, trace the phone location, as well as gather information from apps including (but not limited to) iMessage, Gmail, Viber, Facebook, WhatsApp and Skype.