WILL SET UP EXPERT PANEL OVER PEGASUS ROW, GOVT TELLS SC

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The Centre on Monday filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court saying that it will set up a committee of experts to examine all aspects of the alleged surveillance of Indian citizens with the Israeli Pegasus spyware, even as it cited “vested interests” behind the controversy.

The Centre in its affidavit also stated that: “With a view to dispel any wrong narrative spread by certain vested interests and with an object of examining the issues raised, the Union of India will constitute a committee of experts in the field which will go into all aspects of the issue,”.

During the hearing, the Supreme Court noted that the Centre’s two-page affidavit, denying snooping charges and agreeing to form a panel of experts to examine all aspects of the matter, has not satisfied a group of petitioners seeking an independent probe. “We will continue to hear the matter tomorrow (Tuesday). If you have a change of mind, let us know tomorrow. If you decide to file an affidavit, then we have nothing to say, else we will hear all of you,” the bench said.

The Supreme court was hearing nine petitions, including those of Advocate ML Sharma, Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas, Director of Hindu Group of publications N. Ram, founder of Asianet Sashi Kumar, Editors Guild of India, journalists Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, SNM Abdi, Prem Shankar Jha, and Rupesh Kumar Singh, seeking a court-monitored SIT probe into the Pegasus snoopgate.

On 3 August, the Editors Guild of India had filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a court-monitored SIT probe into the Pegasus snoopgate. The plea also sought directions to be issued to the Central government to produce any contracts, agreements, memoranda of understanding entered into with foreign companies for supplying spyware, hacking or electronic surveillance for use on Indian citizens.

The petitioner stated that the Government of India has not expressly denied procuring Pegasus spyware, or using it on journalists, and consequently must uncover and furnish all information regarding purchase and use of this malware, and illegal surveillance carried out by the use of this spyware/surveillance tool/hacking. The petitioner said that the citizens of India have a right to know about the violation of fundamental rights, abuse of power by the state, occurrence of cyber terrorist attacks, and threats to their privacy, safety and freedoms.

On 27 July, senior journalists N. Ram and Shashi Kumar had filed a plea in Supreme Court for an independent probe headed by a former or sitting top court judge into Pegasus issue. The petitioners also sought direction to the Center to disclose if the government or any of its agencies have obtained license(s) for Pegasus spyware and/or used/employed it, either directly or indirectly, to conduct surveillance in any manner whatsoever.

The petitioners stated that such targeted surveillance using weapons grade Pegasus software violates Article 21, 19 and 14 of the Constitution of India, as it breaches the right to privacy and the right to freedom of speech and expression. The present surveillance is also in complete derogation of the Telegraph Act, 1885 and the Information Technology Act, 2000 and as such is completely illegal and a criminal act, it added.

The plea further stated that such targeted surveillance violates the right to privacy, which is the Constitutional core of human dignity and is protected under Article 21, 19, 14, 25, 28, the Preamble and Part III of the Constitution according to the landmark judgment of a nine-judge bench of this Court in K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India.

On 25 July, Rajya Sabha member John Brittas had filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a court-monitored probe into reports of alleged snooping of activists, politicians, journalists and constitutional functionaries using Israeli spyware Pegasus. The parliamentarian said the recent Pegasus snooping allegations as reported by a website on 19 July are causing huge apprehensions and great agony for the citizens of India as such snooping violate  citizen’s freedom of speech under Article-19 (1) (a) as well as his/her personal liberty under Article-21.

On 22 July, Advocate ML Sharma had filed a petition in Supreme Court seeking a court-monitored probe by a Special Investigation Team into the reports of alleged snooping by government agencies using Israeli spyware Pegasus over journalists, activists, politicians and others. The plea further sought to declare buying of Pegasus software for snooping illegal and unconstitutional.

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