Reports indicate that over 20 Indians were alerted about their phones being placed under surveillance for two weeks in May this year, in the run up to the nation's parliamentary elections.
India’s main opposition Congress Party has pointed its finger at the nation's federal agencies, which it is accusing of a “flagrant abuse of privacy”.
“We suspect that many senior opposition leaders and judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts have also been targets by BJP government,” said Congress Spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala.
Meanwhile, Sidhant Sibal, a journalist, was alerted by WhatsApp that there had beenattempts to breach his phone.
“In May we stopped an attack where an advanced cyber actor exploited our video calling to install malware on user devices. There’s a possibility this phone number was impacted, and we want to make sure you know how to keep your mobile phone secure,” reads the message received by Sibal from WhatsApp.
Sibal however, said it was just an attempt and he doesn't suspect any individual or agency of having been behind it.
The messaging platform WhatsApp did not say at whose behest the phones of these journalists and activists were targeted, but the Israeli company, NSO Group has maintained that it only sells its software Pegasus to government agencies.
As the news broke out, India’s Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government was concerned about the breach of privacy of citizens who use the platform.
“We have asked WhatsApp to explain the kind of breach and what it is doing to safeguard the privacy of millions of Indian citizens,” he said in a statement.
In another statement, the spokesperson of the federal Home Ministry said, “the reported attempts to malign the Government of India for the reported breach are completely misleading”.
“It is clarified that the Government of India operates strictly (in accordance with the) provisions of law and laid down protocols. There are adequate safeguards to ensure that no innocent citizen is harassed or his privacy breached,” reads the statement.
US-based Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, has been facing charges that it has allowed the platform to violate the privacy of its account holders. Earlier in October, Turkey had fined FaceBook $282,000 for its violation of data protection laws, which have affected 300,000 people.
In the United States itself, users held the company liable for allowing third parties including Cambridge Analytica to access its data.