Supreme Court refuses to entertain petition by RSS ideologue on WhatsApp snooping case

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NEW DELHI: Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideologue K.N. Govindacharya has withdrawn a petition seeking an investigation by the NIA against WhatsApp and Facebook into the snooping.

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.

Senior Counsel Vikas Singh with Advocate Virag Gupta, who appeared for the petitioner, withdrew the petition after the court pointed out several mistakes in the petition and sought liberty to file an amended petition.

The Bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and justices BR Gavai and Surya Kant also 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?"

The scandal relates to claims that several mobile users were surveilled after 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 Facebook-owned messaging platform had 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.

The petition had raised eyebrows in legal circles since it was strange to go to Supreme Court asking the government to investigate itself through an agency under the Home Ministry.

Govindacharya said in his petition that NSO had 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, a Telegraph report said.

The RSS ideologue wanted 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, who was one of the prominent faces of the Ram temple movement in the RSS in the 1990s, had fallen out with the BJP after he called Atal Bihari Vajpayee “BJP’s mukhota (mask)” while Advani called the shots.

Govindacharya’s lawyer, Supreme Court advocate Virag Gupta, said the RSS leader had taken up this cause in public interest, said the Telegraph report.  He claimed that Govindacharya had pursued issues of “cybersecurity, data protection, tax liabilities of internet companies and accountability of internet companies” to Indian laws for the last eight years.

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