Not one to miss an opportunity to take a swipe at the Modi government, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was quick to capitalize on the WhatsApp hacking by an Israeli malware controversy to claim that her phone has been tapped and that she has evidence to prove it.
Making a sensational allegation, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday claimed that her phone was tapped and that she had the evidence to prove her charge.
“My phone was tapped, I know that. Because I have got the information, I have the evidence with me,” Banerjee told media persons at the state secretariat Nabanna.
Asked whether she would raise the matter with the Centre, Banerjee said: “What is there to be raised? The government knows it. The government has done it.”
Banerjee levelled the allegations while replying to queries from journalists on the accusations of public surveillance through WhatsApp.
This is not the first time the Trinamool Congress supremo has come up with the allegation.
In February, she had charged the Central agencies with tapping her phone, while reacting to the terror attack on CRPF convoy in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district.
“I also have intelligence reports that my phone is always tapped, as you all know,” she had said.
In September 2012, when her party came out of the UPA-led coalition at the Centre, Banerjee had hinted at the government resorting to the tapping of her phones.
“If you have the Central government in your hand, you can get the phones tapped. It has happened to me before. My number had three copies. When I would go to Nandigram or Midnapore, I could not use my number as it was being used in Kolkata,” she had then said, claiming to have filed police complaints against the misuse of her phone.
When the Trinamool was the principal opposition in the state, with the Left Front in the saddle, the party had in November 2009, lodged a complaint with then Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram that the state government had ordered tapping of phones of Banerjee and other functionaries.
The then Leader of the opposition in the state assembly Partha Chatterjee had told media persons that an additional commissioner of police had been given the task to tap the phones.
Assailing the Narendra Modi government over accusations of public surveillance through WhatsApp, Mamata Banerjee questioned the kind of freedom enjoyed by Indian citizens who can’t even talk safely and requested the prime minister to take care of the issue.
“Yes, I know that the government is using this Israeli NSO to watch the activities of the politicians, the media, lawyers, even judges, and IAS, IPS officers, social activists along with other important personalities. It’s true. This information is not wrong,” she said, joining forces with other opposition parties who have upped the ante against the Modi government on the issue.
Banerjee said though the constitution guarantees the freedom of the press, and the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression, “total spying was on” and whether it be landlines, or mobiles, or even WhatsApp calls, “nothing was secure”.
“What sort of freedom do we have now when we can’t even talk? When we talk, that is also entirely recorded and some people listen to them. Earlier WhatsApp used to be secure. Now there is an agency which can listen to WhatsApp calls also,” Banerjee told media persons at the state secretariat Nabanna.
“Total spying is on. It is a very serious situation. I will request the prime minister to take care of this,” she said.
Banerjee alleged that the Israeli NSO has supplied software to the government, and the agencies were now using it.
“And it is a fact that Israel, this NSO they have supplied this to the government. And there are so many agencies, that are using it,” she said.
WhatsApp snooping of human rights activists and journalists in India via Israeli spyware called Pegasus has snowballed into a major political controversy. Pegasus allegedly exploited WhatsApp’s video calling system by installing the spyware via giving missed calls to snoop on 1,400 select users globally, including nearly 30-40 people in India.
The owner of Pegasus, Israel-based NSO Group, limits the sale of the spyware to state intelligence agencies and others as it has the ability to collect intimate data from a target device. Pegasus software can be installed on devices as “exploit links”. The Indian government has denied purchasing or planning to buy Pegasus from the NSO Group.
Soon after tech giant WhatsApp got into a face-off with the Indian government claiming its officials met the Indian government in the last five months, government sources say the information provided was “pure technical jargon”.
Government sources also say that WhatsApp had given information to CERT-IN, a government agency in May, but without any mention of Pegasus or the extent of the breach. It also insists, that the information shared was only about a technical vulnerability and had nothing to do with the fact that the privacy of Indian users had been compromised.
To back its claim, a screenshot of the information shared with CERT-IN by WhatsApp was circulated by government sources.
Earlier, highly-placed official sources indicated a war with the messaging platform, alleging that the whole controversy may be a ploy by the messaging company to build pressure on governments to push back on their demands on traceability.
“WhatsApp officials have met the Indian government in the last five months. This incident is of August…. then why did WhatsApp not inform us that time. Looking at our demand, now the US, UK and Australia have also raised the pitch for traceability. So this is too much of a coincidence. This could be an attempt by WhatsApp to build pressure on countries to push back on growing global opinion for traceability using this example,” a source said.
The snooping of human rights activists and journalists in India via an Israeli spyware called Pegasus has snowballed into a major political controversy. Pegasus allegedly exploited WhatsApp’s video calling system with installing the spyware via giving missed calls to snoop on 1,400 select users globally, including nearly 30-40 people in India. (IANS)