Congress claims Priyanka Gandhi received warning from WhatsApp, alleges BJP was spying on political leaders before 2019 Lok Sabha elections

  • The Congress on Sunday claimed that party leader Priyanka Gandhi had received a message from Whatsapp regarding possible hacking of her phone

  • The party also alleged that the BJP government had been spying on political leaders in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections

  • It also asked for action to be taken against those found guilty of 'illegally deploying the software'.

The Congress on Sunday claimed that party leader Priyanka Gandhi had received a message from Whatsapp regarding possible hacking of her phone. The party also stepped up its attack on the BJP-led government, alleging that it had colluded with the Israeli firm NSO to carry out "illegal and unconstitutional hacking" of cell phones to spy on Opposition leaders in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

"I want to mention that Priyanka Gandhi also received a similar message from WhatsApp around the same time," Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, responding to a question during a press conference about Praful Patel and Mamata Banerjee receiving messages from the Facebook-owned messaging platform.

Earlier, the Congress spokesperson also released a statement alleging that the BJP government was the "deployer and executor" of the racket.

"The layers of BJP government s conspiracy and collusion in the illegal and unconstitutional hacking of cell phones through surveillance software ‘Pegasus’ are unraveling everyday," said the statement.

Referring to a report released and now taken down from the website of CERT-IN, India's cyber response team, the statement argues that the government, including the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting knew about the hacking of cell phones in April-May 2019.  "

Facebook has gone on record to state that it sent a second written warning vis-a vis the illegal Pegasus sofware in the first week of Septmeber 2019 and yet, the government decided to keep mum, the party further stated. It also alleged that the silence on part of he government continued till a news report carried the story of the sypware attack on 30 October. "Till today, no clarifactory (sic) statement denying  the complicity of the government in deploying the illegal spyware 'Pegasus' has been issued either by Ravi Shankar Prasad or the PMO," said the statement.

The statement further refers to NSO group's claim that the Pegasus software is sold only to "licensed government and law enforcement agencies for the sole purpose of investigating and preventing crime and terror" and argues that the government and its agencies bought the spyware. Referring to a report by the Citizen Lab, the statement alleges that the spyware was used to snoop on journalists and human rights activists and that a large number of internet providers, including MTNL, Hathaway Cable services and the National Internet Backbone were infected by a an operator named 'GANGES'.

On the basis of these documents, the statement asks whether the government was spying on key persons in the run up to the 2019 general elections."What action will be taken against those guilty of deploying the illegal software," it asks.

A Firstpost report had listed out twenty people who confirmed being contacted by WhatsApp regarding a possible breach in security so far. These include lawyers, social activists and journalists.

WhatsApp had informed the Indian government in September that 121 Indian users were targeted by the Israeli spyware Pegasus, but the IT ministry has contended that the information received from the messaging app earlier was inadequate and incomplete, according to sources.

Sources at WhatsApp said the messaging platform has now responded to the government's last week's query seeking an explanation on the Pegasus spyware incident that allegedly snooped on journalists and human rights activists across the world, including India.

With inputs from PTI

Updated Date: Nov 03, 2019 22:43:19 IST