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Par panel members divided over discussing WhatsApp snooping; decided by voting


New Delhi, Nov 20: Heated arguments marked the meeting of a parliamentary committee on Wednesday on whether to take up the WhatsApp snooping issue or not, leading to voting by its members that resulted in the favour of discussing the contentious matter, which has snowballed into a major political row.

Par panel members divided over discussing WhatsApp snooping; decided by voting

The members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, headed by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor were divided along partisan lines, sources said, with BJP members being opposed to taking up the issue while others, including MPs of BJP ally LJP and fence-sitter YSRCP, pushing for the discussion. Sources said votes resulted in a tie and it was Tharoor's vote as the committee's chairperson which swung the balance in favour of discussion. He had earlier voted as a member and rules allow a committee's head to vote again in case of a tie.

As members were busy arguing the matter, Secretaries of Home, and Electronics and Information Technology ministries were kept waiting for over two hours. Ajay Kumar Sawhney, Secretary in the Electronics and Information and Technology Ministry, also made a presentation before the panel on the issue of data security.

Tharoor had earlier written a letter to the members of the panel, saying the alleged use of technology for snooping on Indian citizens was a matter of "grave concern" and it would be discussed at its meeting on Wednesday. Senior government officials briefed its members on the issue of "Citizens' data security and privacy".

Earlier, Facebook-owned WhatsApp said Indian journalists and human rights activists were among those globally spied upon by unidentified entities, using an Israeli spyware -- Pegasus. Members of the panel also questioned the officials about the spyware.

Earlier, top official sources said WhatsApp had written to the government expressing "regret" over the Pegasus snooping row, and has assured it that the social media giant is taking all security measures to address concerns. The sources, who requested not to be named, said the government has asked it to reinforce its security wall, and that no more breaches in the messaging platform will be tolerated.

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