WhatsApp snooping: RSS ideologue Govindacharya withdraws plea from Supreme Court

The petitioner had approached the Supreme Court seeking direction to initiate perjury proceedings against WhatsApp for "misleading court in a case by claiming that user-data is fully encrypted and no one including WhatsApp has the key". 

WhatsApp snooping: RSS ideologue Govindacharya withdraws plea from Supreme Court

New Delhi: RSS ideologue K N Govindacharya on Monday (December 2) withdrew his petition from the Supreme Court, as an apex court bench headed by Chief Justice of India S A Bobde asked Govindacharya to do so, citing several mistakes in it. The RSS ideologue has sought registration of FIR and an NIA probe against Facebook, WhatsApp and NSO Group for violating the privacy of Indians, in the wake of the alleged snooping by them.

Last month, Facebook-owned WhatsApp had said that various Indian journalists and human rights activists were spied upon by unnamed entities using an Israeli spyware Pegasus developed by an Israeli company named NSO.

The petitioner had approached the Supreme Court seeking direction to initiate perjury proceedings against WhatsApp for "misleading court in a case by claiming that user-data is fully encrypted and no one including WhatsApp has the key". 

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Notably, the WhatsApp snooping row involving privacy infringement of 121 Indian users out of 1,400 globally via third-party Israeli Pegasus spyware is now witnessing serious questions on the part of the government in handling such a crucial matter in the absence of a robust digital legal framework.

In a legal memorandum sent to IT and Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, KN Govindacharya, founder of Rashtriya Swabhimaan Aandolan, said that the Minister`s statement in the Rajya Sabha last week on WhatsApp-Pegasus snooping matter did not reveal the complete truth.

Reacting to the Minister`s claim that no complaint has been made in the IT Ministry till date by anyone in the WhatsApp spyware case, the memorandum said that a petition filed on behalf of Govindacharya by advocate Virag Gupta in Supreme Court on November 2 clearly sought an NIA investigation into the WhatsApp-NSO data Leak and perjury proceedings against WhatsApp and Facebook.

Prasad told the Rajya Sabha that WhatsApp has even established its office in India. The petitioner argued that WhatsApp Inc is a company registered in the US and has been doing business in India for the last 10 years.

"Till date, WhatsApp does not have an office in India. WhatsApp Application Services Private Limited is an Indian subsidiary, which has a separate corporate personality and has no control over WhatsApp app being used by over 40 crore users in India," said the RSS ideologue Govindacharya in his petition.

A third key point that Prasad raised in the Rajya Sabha was that WhatsApp has appointed a Grievance Officer in India to take care of users` complaints.

The petitioner categorically stated that the so-called Grievance Officer has been appointed in the US and not in India as stated by the minister.

After being pulled up by the Supreme Court for not appointing a Grievance Officer and complying with other laws of India, WhatsApp in September last year appointed Komal Lahiri as the Grievance Officer for the country.

Based out of WhatsApp`s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, Lahiri can only be contacted via email and general post.

"India with the biggest user base in the world has become a data colony as all our users` data is going abroad," said the petition.

The writ petition filed by Govindacharya in the WhatsApp-NSO Group snooping case is set to be heard in the Supreme Court on December 2.

The Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) had published a vulnerability note on May 17 advising countermeasures to users about a vulnerability in WhatsApp, according to an earlier statement from Prasad. WhatsApp reported an incident to the CERT-In on May 20, the Minister said.

(With Agency Inputs)