Targets of WhatsApp snooping write open letter to Centre

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Letter urges government to place information on surveillance in public domain

Nineteen activists, journalists, students and lawyers, who were targets of WhatsApp snooping, on Friday wrote an open letter to the Centre expressing their displeasure over their privacy being compromised.

The letter states, “The knowledge that we are under surveillance by an unknown entity and that our intimate details, personal conversations, financial transactions etc. were being spied upon is deeply disturbing.”

The signatories

The letter has been signed by PhD scholar Ajmal Khan; activists Vivek Sundara, Bela Bhatia, Rupali Jadhav, Seema Azad, Degree Prasad Chouhan, and Vira Sathidar; lawyers Mandeep, Jagdish Meshram, Nikita Agarwal, Nihalsing Rathod, Ankit Grewal, Shalini Gera, and Balla Ravindra Nath; journalists Shubhranshu Choudhary Alok Shukla, and Asish Gupta; and students Vidhya and Devika Menon.

Over the last fortnight, all the signatories had received messages from WhatsApp Inc. informing them that their mobile devices had been targeted by a highly sophisticated cyber attack. They said attempts had been made to send spyware to their electronic devices through the WhatsApp video calling service, compromising their digital security.

WhatsApp attributes this attack to a malicious spyware, Pegasus, which is the flagship product of the Israeli-based NSO group and its parent company Q Cyber Technologies. Once installed on a device, the spyware makes all contents — including passwords, contact lists, call logs, text messages and voice calls — accessible to a remote operator. The malware allows the operator to stealthily turn on the phone’s camera and microphone and capture real-time activity in the immediate environment of the device.

The letter states, “This violates our fundamental right of privacy, and compromises not only our security, but also of those in our extended network of family, friends, colleagues, clients, sources etc. Indeed, such widespread surveillance produces a chilling effect on the entire society and goes against every grain of our democratic tradition of a free exchange of ideas and expressions.”

The letter has urged the Central government to reveal information it has on the cyber attack, other similar methods of mass surveillance and the identity of the players concerned. The signatories said it is a matter of public concern if tax-payers’ money has been spent on cyber surveillance. They also said national sovereignty is under threat as international private corporations have penetrated telecommunication channels and have the ability to access intimate details of Indian citizens.

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