Snoopgate: Government has no dealings with Israeli company, says source

New Delhi, November 1 () The Indian government has no dealings with the Israeli company NSO that is said to be behind software used to spy on activists and journalists around the world, an important government source said on Friday.

The source, who requested anonymity, said WhatsApp had not disclosed the alleged spying incident in its talks with the Indian government it had since the attack in May this year.

India, the source said, will continue to insist that WhatsApp bring traceability and also want the company owned by Facebook to respond to the latest incident with all the details.

WhatsApp has had time until November 4 to respond, and the government will decide the future course of action once it receives a response from the company.

So far, NSO has claimed that it only sold its technology to government intelligence and law enforcement agencies licensed to help them fight terrorism and serious crime and is not designed or authorized for use against human rights activists. and journalists.

It was not clear to whom the company had sold its software in India and to whom journalists and activists were targeting.

The source said there has been no deal between the government and the NSO, and that the fight is between NSO and WhatsApp.

The Indian government is worried just because Indian names are involved, the source said.

The source said that WhatsApp Global Head, Will Catchcart (in July) and Facebook's Global Vice President of Global Affairs and Communications, Nick Clegg (September), had met with officials from the IT Ministry and that the government, in these meetings, he had insisted on revealing the malicious source for compelling reasons. It did not require any decryption.

Even at that time, WhatsApp did not reveal this incident, the source said, adding that any piracy incident related to the country must be reported to the authorities.

WhatsApp has more than 1.5 billion users worldwide, of which only India represents around 400 million.

In the past too, WhatsApp has received criticism from the Indian government about the misuse of the platform for spreading erroneous information that led to incidents of mafia lynching.

The government has categorically told WhatsApp that it wants the platform to bring a mechanism to allow the tracking of the creator of the messages, a demand that WhatsApp has resisted citing privacy issues.

The source raised questions about whether the disclosure by WhatsApp was a rearguard action to prevent the government from taking measures on traceability and accountability.

When establishing parallels with a letter in an envelope, the source said that the government was not interested in the content of the letter but in the address of the sender.

The person said that it was not acceptable for WhatsApp to resist the demands of message traceability when, in fact, people are being spied on, and that the challenges around end-to-end encryption technology can be solved with technology.

WhatsApp filed a lawsuit in federal court in California against the NSO Group on Tuesday, which allegedly developed spyware, saying it was attempted to infect approximately 1,400 target devices globally with malicious software to steal valuable information from those using the messaging application.

These attacks allegedly attacked members of civil society as journalists and human rights activists worldwide, including India.

On Thursday, WhatsApp had said that Indian journalists and human rights activists were among the globally spied on by unidentified entities that used Israeli spyware Pegasus.

After the disclosure, the government asked WhatsApp to explain the matter and list the measures it has taken to safeguard the privacy of millions of Indians.

WhatsApp said Friday that it has taken strong action in the incident and that it supports the position of the Indian government on the need to safeguard the privacy of all citizens.

We agree with the strong statement of the Government of India on the need to safeguard the privacy of all Indian citizens. That is why we have taken this strong action to hold cyber attackers accountable and why WhatsApp is so committed to protecting all user messages through the product we offer, said a WhatsApp spokesperson.

However, the spokesman did not comment if WhatsApp has sent its response to the government's query.

The government is also questioning the timing of the disclosure of the piracy incident, particularly in the context of the Supreme Court that allows the Center three months to establish rules to curb the misuse of social networks in the country, the source added.

When asked if developments could further delay the national implementation of WhatsApp Pay, the source said this incident raises flags about the seriousness and security of WhatsApp digital payment plans because digital payments must be infallible. The WhatsApp payment service, which would compete with companies such as Paytm, PhonePe and Google Pay, has been tested for months and is awaiting regulatory approvals before a full launch. MBI SR ANZ SR MR MR

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