WhatsApp surveillance spyware: Supreme Court refuses to entertain petition by RSS ideologue

WhatsApp surveillance spyware: Supreme Court refuses to entertain petition by RSS ideologue

Shruti Mahajan

The Supreme Court today asked former RSS ideologue KN Govindacharya to withdraw his petition seeking perjury action against WhatsApp after the NSO Group surveillance scandal surfaced.

The petition had sought action against the Facebook subsidiary for perjury on the grounds that WhatsApp claims that there is end-to-end encryption in the app which protects the same from being breached. A Court monitored SIT to look into the matter was also prayed for by petitioner.

KN Govindacharya (Image Source: Facebook)
KN Govindacharya (Image Source: Facebook)

The Bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde with Justices BR Gavai and Surya Kant today asked why the matter should not first go to the High Court. CJI Bobde said,

“Why don’t you allow us the benefit of a High Court order, why should we become a trial court?”

Senior Counsel Mukul Rohatgi, representing the respondent, told the Court that a number of matters concerning Facebook and WhatsApp already stood transferred to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, however, was not inclined to entertain the petition on account of mistakes in the same. It thus asked Govindacharya to withdraw the petition.

Senior Counsel Vikas Singh with Advocate Virag Gupta appeared for the petitioner. They withdrew the petition and sought liberty to file an amended petition.

The petition had been moved last month calling for a a National Investigation Agency (NIA) probe in the wake of the recent NSO Group snooping scandal. The plea further contends that WhatsApp is liable for perjury, in view of its earlier submissions before Court that the content exchanged on its platform is secure owing to its end to end encryption policy.

The scandal relates to claims that several mobile users were surveilled after a spyware – Pegasus – was activated on their phones through WhatsApp. The targeted persons could be tracked through the data on their phone, including location services, camera and audio facilities, WhatsApp content, emails etc.

The glitch that enabled the spyware to inject itself was first noticed in May 2019. However, the scandal assumed the limelight more recently, after WhatsApp itself moved a District Court in California, and publicly attributed the spyware to Israeli developer NSO Group. In that case, warrants have been issued against NSO Group.

The NSO Group, in turn, has since claimed that it only deals with verified government entities, leading to concerns that the targeted users were under government surveillance.

[Read Order]

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