The Columbia Journalism review reports that five Indian journalists have been notifed by WhatsApp of attempts to hack their phone.
In October 2019, WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, sued the Israeli technology firm NSO Group in a United States federal court and accused the company of exploiting a vulnerability in WhatsApp to enable its clients to spy on at least 100 members of civil society around the world. The NSO Group disputed the allegations “in the strongest possible terms” in a statement at the time, on the grounds that it only sells technology to governments to combat terrorism and serious crime.
The Indian journalists believe they have been targeted for their published work. Some said the WhatsApp notification came in conjunction with intimidation or other reprisals from the government for their work. All five denied any involvement in terrorism or serious crimes. They said they don’t know who is responsible.
Gopal Krishna Pillai, who served as home secretary under a Congress Party government between 2009 and 2011 before leaving politics, told CPJ that NSO products are “available and used” by authorities in India, but did not respond to a request to identify the agencies involved. Pillai has told Indian media he was aware of several thousand Indians targeted for surveillance under his tenure. Pillai told CPJ that he believes the current regime is spying more aggressively.
Journalists and human rights activities in Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Mexico have registered similar complaints about NSO.
Juliette Kayyem, a Washington Post columnist and former Obama administration official, recently quit as an adviser to the company after allegations that NSO spyware had been used to track Jamal Khashoggi, the Post columnist murdered in the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October 2018.