New York, October 31, 2019—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by news reports that several journalists in India have been notified that they were among the targets of suspicious WhatsApp contact that may have been used to install advanced surveillance technology on their phones. Facebook-owned WhatsApp this week said it filed a lawsuit accusing the Israel-based NSO Group of facilitating attempts to surveil WhatsApp users through sales of its advanced Pegasus spyware, which is marketed to government agencies.
“We are extremely concerned by reports that attempts were made to spy on journalists in India, whose privacy and safety – as well as that of their sources – is threatened when their activities and communications are tracked,” said Aliya Iftikhar, senior researcher for CPJ’s Asia program. “CPJ calls on the NSO Group and Indian authorities to fully account for these reported actions and for the government to reaffirm its commitment to press freedom and citizens’ right to privacy.”
The Indian government has asked WhatsApp to explain the nature of the privacy breach, according to news reports. The NSO Group has denied the allegations by WhatsApp, telling Reuters, “the sole purpose of NSO is to provide technology to licensed government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to help them fight terrorism and serious crime.”