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Priyanka Gandhi Was Also Spied on With Israeli Software, WhatsApp Informed of Hack: Congress

At a press conference, Surjewala said that Gandhi had received a message from the Facebook-owned messaging platform informing her that her phone had also been targeted with the snooping software at the same time that other users were notified.

News18.com

Updated:November 3, 2019, 8:38 PM IST
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Priyanka Gandhi Was Also Spied on With Israeli Software, WhatsApp Informed of Hack: Congress
File photo of Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (PTI)

New Delhi: The phone of senior Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi was also hacked through WhatsApp with the use of the Israeli spyware Pegasus, party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala alleged on Sunday.

At a press conference, Surjewala said that Gandhi had received a message from the Facebook-owned messaging platform informing her that her phone could also have been targeted with the snooping software at the same time that other users in India were notified. The party, however, did not say exactly when Gandhi received the message.

"I want to tell that Priyanka Gandhi also received a similar message from WhatsApp around the same time," Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, responding to a question about Praful Patel and Mamata Banerjee receiving messages from the Facebook-owned messaging platform.

On Thursday, reports had revealed that several members of the civil society in India have been the target of surveillance through a spyware, Pegasus, which was developed by an Israeli cyber intelligence firm, NSO Group. Pegasus was used to target around 1,400 users globally during a two-week period in May.

So far, 17 individuals, mostly lawyers, human rights activists, and journalists, have confirmed that they were targeted by spyware through WhatsApp.

Sources told News18 that after she received the message warning her that her phone was suspected to have been targeted, Gandhi did not think much of the message and deleted it. The messages alerting the users were sent out by Citizen Lab, a Canada-based cyber security group that is assisting WhatsApp in investigating the spyware attack.

After the controversy erupted this past week when, the Congress communication team, the sources said, asked Gandhi about it and sent a copy of messages received by activists reportedly targeted, to which she confirmed that she had received similar messages. Gandhi, they added, says she also received calls from international numbers around that time but hadn’t answered them.

The Congress spokesperson blamed the ruling BJP of targeting opposition leaders with the snooping software, and said that the party suspects that many senior politicians and judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts have also been spied on.

Claiming the BJP government has been "exposed", the Congress asked a series of questions and demanded that ministers and officials involved be punished.

Some of the people targeted have said they suspect that Indian government agencies may have been involved in the surveillance, as they were informed as much by Citizen Lab.

While WhatsApp did not say on whose behest the phones of journalists and activists were targeted, the NSO Group has maintained that the Pegasus software is only sold to government agencies around the world.

The home ministry had in an RTI reply said that it had “no information” on whether the government had purchased the spyware from the Israeli firm. The government has sought an explanation from WhatsApp on the alleged surveillance of phones by November 4, but the messaging platform said that it had informed the Indian authorities about the privacy breach in May itself.

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