Amid growing outrage over the Pegasus phone-hacking row, Signal – pitched by itself as a more secure version of WhatsApp – took a swipe at the government over new IT laws requiring messaging apps to break encryption, ‘trace’ chats and identify users in a conversation chain.
“Looks like the Indian government has been secretly attempting to surveil political opposition leaders, journalists, activists… Interesting coincidence that they’ve also been advocating legislation to weaken encryption…” a tweet from the app’s handle said.
The tweet contained a link to a report by The Guardian, which headlined claims that Congress MP Rahul Gandhi was among potential targets of surveillance by the Narendra Modi government.
Looks like the Indian government has been secretly attempting to surveil political opposition parties, journalists, activists, clerics, and labor unions.
Interesting coincidence that they’ve also been advocating legislation to weaken encryption lately! https://t.co/nwIjUAaP9v
— Signal (@signalapp) July 20, 2021
The tweet comes as messaging platforms in India push back against the contentious new IT laws, which require them to break (or weaken) encryption levels of all messages in order to ‘trace’ chats that the Modi government deems a threat to law and order or national security.
WhatsApp – which, like Signal, offers end-to-end encryption of messages and calls (meaning it cannot access or view user content) – has filed a legal challenge to a law that, it says, will “fundamentally undermines people’s right to privacy”.
Co-founder Brian Acton spoke to NDTV in January to say “Signal absolutely scores above WhatsApp in privacy”, and that it is “important to protect people from… abuse of power”.
The government has said it “fully recognises and respects users’ right to privacy”, and insists the new laws are designed to prevent abuse and misuse of, and on, social media and IM platforms.
The Pegasus row exploded Sunday after The Wire – reporting in tandem with international media houses said phone numbers, including those belonging to journalists and opposition leaders critical of the government, were found on a list of potential surveillance targets between 2017 and 2019.
The government has denied any “unauthorised interception”, and declared the reports to be “sensational”, “over-the-top” and aimed at maligning the image of Indian democracy.
According to developers NSO Group, the controversial Israeli spyware is sold only to “vetted governments” who are contractually obliged to use it for law enforcement and fighting terrorism.
Pegasus works by infiltrating phones via ‘zero-click’ attacks – which do not require interaction from the phone’s owner – on or Apple’s iMessage or WhatsApp, which is, by some margin, the world’s most widely-used instant messaging service, with 400 million users in India alone.