In a detailed response to a question related to the recent WhatsApp snooping by an Israeli spyware Pegasus, the Narendra Modi government on Tuesday informed the Lok Sabha that it has the power to "monitor and decrypt" information under the Information Technology Act, 2000. The government said that there is a standard procedure and only 10 central agencies have the power of telephone interception and they have to take Union Home Secretary's approval before putting anyone on surveillance.
The 10 agencies authorised to monitor infromation are - Intelligence Bureau, Central Bureau of Investigation, Enforcement Directorate, Narcotics Control Bureau, Central Board of Direct Taxes, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, National Investigation Agency, R&AW, Directorate of Signal Intelligence and Delhi Police Commissioner.
Union Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy said that Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, empowers the central government or a state government to intercept, monitor or decrypt or cause to be intercepted or monitored or decrypted, any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource in the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of the country.
"This power of interception is to be executed as per the provisions of law, rules and SoPs. Easy such case is approved by the Union Home Secretary in case of central government and by the Home Secretary of the state concerned in case of the state government," he said in a written reply to a question. The minister, however, didn't mention the recent Pegasus attack or clarified whether the Centre ordered WhatsApp snooping.
The NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm accused of snooping Indian journalists and human rights activists using a spyware named Pegasus, has denied the allegations leveled by Facebook-owned WhatsApp. The NSO Group had said that the malware was sold only to "vetted and legitimate government agencies".
In its response, the Modi government didn't inform the House whether these agencies were in possession of the Pegasus spyware. When the snooping was revealed, the government had asked WhatsApp's response and claimed that it was not informed about the attack when it took place.
However, WhatsApp in its official statement had claimed that it had informed the government about the virus attack in May this year. In its response, the government didn't mention this as well.
(With PTI Inputs)