In a first, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) categorically denied that “the government or any of its agencies have access to the data and voice messages circulated through WhatsApp”. In response to a question by Lok Sabha Congress MP D.K. Suresh (Bangalore Rural), IT Minister of State Sanjay Dhotre also said that no restrictions have been imposed by the government on WhatsApp and Facebook in the last one year. This is the first time that the government has explicitly answered a yes/no question about its access to WhatsApp communications. It usually tends to obfuscate on the issue, or at least on the issue of purchase of Israeli spyware. In response to a similar question raised by DMK MP Dayanidhi Maran (Chennai Central) in November 2019, Home Minister of State G. Kishan Reddy had quoted Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, Section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act, and related rules. He had not answered the question asked: "whether the Government does Tapping of WhatsApp calls and Messages in the country [sic]". Government's ambivalent stance on purchase of spyware The frequency of these questions has risen dramatically in the last three Parliament sessions (including the current one) owing to revelations that 121 Indians were targeted using Israeli cybersecurity company NSO Group’s spyware Pegasus by exploiting a vulnerability in WhatsApp. What initially followed was a series of denials by the government that WhatsApp had not informed the government about it while the Facebook-owned app maintained that it had…
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