Snooping scandal: Praful Patel, Santosh Bharatiya among WhatsApp users targeted


A day after world popular messaging service WhatsApp accused an Israeli firm of using its platform for spying on around 1,400 people across the world, several people from India, including former Union Minister Praful Patel and former Lok Sabha MP Santosh Bharatiya, have come forward to say that they had been identified as targets of a phone hack aimed at spying on them.

WhatsApp had identified as many as 41 people who were being snooped on in India, which included journalists, lawyers and human rights activists. Their phones had been under state-of-the-art surveillance for a two-week period until May 2019.

The software which has come under the radar is known as Pegasus, and is developed by NSO Group. It has been learned that this malware allows almost complete control of the target’s phone, giving access to files, media, microphone and even camera.

The people (targets) were informed either by Toronto-based research group Citizen Lab or WhatsApp itself about this activity.

“They told me that I was one of 1,400 people [globally] who was the target of an attempted spying attack,” Hindustan Times quoted a 32-year old diplomatic correspondent in New Delhi, who received a call from Citizen Lab last month, as saying.

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“I am a Hindi journalist, with little knowledge of how these technologies work. I don’t know why I was even targeted,” Santosh Bharatiya told Hindustan Times.

“Citizen Lab got in touch with me on October 5… I got a message from WhatsApp two days ago, on October 29,” lawyer Shalini Gaira told Hindustan Times.

Hindustan Times also reported that social and environmental activist Vivek Sundara, Chhattisgarh-based peace activist and former BBC journalist Shubhranshu Choudhary, activist Bela Bhatia and Asomiya Pratidin’s Delhi bureau chief Ashish Gupta too were informed by the company about them being snooped on.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took the opportunity to hit out at the government as well as bring the Rafale deal controversy to light again.

“The Govt seeking WhatsAop’s response on who bought Pegasus to spy on Indian citizens, is like Modi asking Dassault who made money on the sale of RAFALE jets to India! (sic)” Gandhi tweeted.

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