Hacking: RSS leader Govindacharya approaches Supreme Court, demands case against WhatsApp & Facebook
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideologue K.N. Govindacharya has approached the Supreme Court with a petition against WhatsApp and Facebook and demanded an investigation by the NIA into the snooping.
The Facebook-owned messaging platform recently revealed that more than 1,400 of its users worldwide were targeted by the spyware Pegasus, made by an Isreali firm called the NSO Group. Many were rights activists, lawyers and journalists, several of them in India. It has been reported that as many as 121 Indians might have become targets of the hacking.
Govindacharya wants FIRs registered against Facebook, WhatsApp and the NSO Group, and perjury proceedings against WhatsApp for deliberately misleading the court by claiming that user data is fully encrypted.
Govindacharya in the 1990s was one of the prominent faces of the Ram temple movement in the RSS, the ideological parent of the BJP.
In 2009, the Justice Liberhan commission report tabled in Parliament mentioned Govindacharya among 68 people who were held “culpable for pushing India to communal discord”.
Govindacharya, however, had a falling out with the BJP. He was forced out of the party after he called Atal Bihari Vajpayee “BJP’s mukhota (mask)” while Advani called the shots.
After Govindacharya approached he top court, some lawyers took to Twitter to express what they found wrong with the petition.
Lawyer Gautam Bhatia pointed out: 'As we were informed when the scandal broke, the software is only sold to government or government affiliates. Going to the Supreme Court and asking the government to investigate itself through an agency under the Home Ministry (NIA) does not help anyone.'
He added: 'And lastly, this is a case that is just asking for the government to come to court and shout 'national security' + 'sealed cover', as they have been known to do at the drop of a hat. Once you go on that merry-go round, what follows - multiple adjournments, long dates, and + daily fights not over the merits of the case, but on what can and cannot be in sealed covers, what can and cannot be argued, etc.'
Govindacharya’s lawyer, Supreme Court advocate Virag Gupta, said the RSS leader had taken up this cause in public interest.
“The WhatsApp snooping victims' list is growing by the day and no one has authentic information about the victims. Even WhatsApp has not officially disclosed this information either to its users, or to the US District Court, where it has filed a case,” Gupta said.
Govindacharya mentioned in his prayer that NSO has stated that it sells its technology only to government agencies. “That in case the Government is doing surveillance illegally, it shows the scant respect for rule of law by the instrumentalities of the State,” the petition read. Govindacharya, however, requests no inquiry into the government’s involvement.
As a defence on this, Gupta pointed out that “it is clear that he (Govindacharya) has requested for immediate stoppage of use of Pegasus or similar software by the government. Govindacharya is seeking a probe and action against Facebook, WhatsApp, NSO Group, Q Technologies and all other agencies, be it private or government, which are involved in snooping.”
Gupta claimed that Govindacharya had pursued issues of “cyber security, data protection, tax liabilities of internet companies and accountability of internet companies” to Indian laws for the last eight years.
It was he who had filed an application to become a party – so the court may be apprised of various aspects of the complex issue – in the social media-Aadhaar linking issues, where Facebook had sought the transfer of the case from Madras High Court. He told the apex court that it was because of his petition that internet companies were directed to appoint grievance officers.
Of the 20-plus victims of the Pegasus hack revealed until now, many are lawyers who have not moved court for any legal remedy, yet.
“The victims of NSO Hack on WhatsApp have every right to choose the forum and remedy of their choice. My petition does not restrict any of their rights,” Gupta said. “Some of them were made aware of the hack about a month ago, yet to the best of my knowledge, no one filed any FIR or case.”
Gupta said that he welcomed other petitions in furtherance of the cause but has approached the Supreme Court in “public and national interest” so that illegal surveillance by government or private agencies is stopped and not repeated in future.
This is a disturbing and problematic development. It risks burying any chance of accountability for the NSO/Pegasus spying scandal A brief thread on why. (1/n) https://t.co/VAb8MQtxr4— Gautam Bhatia (@gautambhatia88) November 4, 2019
The petitioner in prayer (b) seeks the notification of the “Draft Information Technology [Intermediaries Guidelines (amendment) Rules] 2018”. These draft rules have provisions which would increase government powers and technical requirements for surveillance. I don’t even... https://t.co/egbC7FYUv1— Apar (@apar1984) November 4, 2019