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 and said that the malware was sold only to “vetted and legitimate government agencies”.
"The sole purpose of NSO is to provide technology to licensed government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to help them fight terrorism and serious crime," the news agency PTI quoted the Israeli surveillance firm as saying.
The statement from the NSO appeared to point fingers at the central government agencies. The government, however, has asked the WhatsApp to explain the breach and measures it is taking to safeguard the privacy of millions of Indian citizens.
"Government of India is concerned at the breach of privacy of citizens of India on the messaging platform WhatsApp. We have asked WhatsApp to explain the kind of breach and what it is doing to safeguard the privacy of millions of Indian citizens," Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad wrote on Twitter.
Prasad sought to give clean chit to the government agencies, saying that they have "a well-established protocol for the interception, which includes sanction and supervision from highly ranked officials in central and state governments, for clearly stated reasons in national interests".
Indians who were spied upon included lawyers of Bhima Koregaon case accused
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. According to Scroll.in, at least 12 people have so far confirmed that they were the targets of the Israeli spyware.
Chhattisgarh-based activist Shalini Gera, who is the lawyer of Bhima Koregaon case accused Sudha Bharadwaj and Nihalsing Rathod, lawyer of another Bhima Koregaon case accused Surendra Gadling were among the targets of the surveillance.
Rights activists Bela Bhatia and Degree Prasad Chauhan, academic and writer on Dalit issues Anand Teltumbde, former BBC journalist Shubhranshu Choudhary Delhi-based activist Ashish Gupta, Allahabad-based Civil Liberties Activist Seema Azad, social and environmental activist Vivek Sundara, Delhi University assistant professor Saroj Giri, WION journalist Sidhant Sibal and columnist Rajeev Sharma were the other victims of the Pegasus snooping.