Nineteen individuals who were victims of so-called WhatsApp snooping have written an open letter to the Government of India demanding an answer to whether Indian taxpayer money was spent on ‘this kind of cyber-surveillance requiring the expenditure of crores of rupees and a vast infrastructure of information technology’.
They have called upon the government to explain whether it was aware of any contract between any of its various ministries, departments, agencies, or any State Government, and the NSO group or any of its contractors to deploy Pegasus or related malware for any operations within India.
“If so, then the details of such a contract, including its total value and the contracting agencies should be placed in the public domain, including information regarding the monitoring and oversight to which these operations have been subjected in order to prevent their abuse,” the letter says.
“And if indeed, the Government of India had no information of any such surveillance, then the public should be fully informed of all the steps being taken to identify the culprits behind these cyber-attacks and to secure our telecommunication channels to prevent such an attack in the future,” it goes on to say.
“The fact that international private corporations, among other foreign players, have penetrated all levels of our telecommunication channels, and have the ability to access the most intimate details of so many Indian citizens, threatens our national sovereignty,” the individuals, who have termed themselves as ‘Pegasus Targeted Persons’, wrote.
“We are all journalists, lawyers, academics, writers, social & cultural activists, students and other professionals, drawn from different parts of India. We have been engaged in various spheres of Indian civil society.
The knowledge that we have all been under surveillance by an unknown entity and that our intimate details, personal conversations, financial transactions etc. were being spied upon is deeply disturbing. 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,” the letter reads.
“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. As affected persons and concerned citizens, we appeal to the Government of India to reveal whatever information it has about this cyberattack, other similar methods of mass surveillance and the identity of the concerned players. An engaged and informed citizenry needs to have full knowledge about the legal regime that governs its right to privacy, and a responsible government must ensure the digital security of all its citizens,” the letter adds.
The signatories of the letter include Adv. Mandeep, Ajmal Khan, Alok Shukla, Ankit Grewal, Asish Gupta, Balla Ravindra Nath, Bela Bhatia, Degree Prasad Chouhan, Devika Menon, Jagdish Meshram, Nihalsingh Rathod, Nikita Agarwal, Rupali Jadhav, Seema Azad, Shalini Gera, Shubhranshu Choudhary, Vidhya, Vira Sathidar and Vivek Sundara