Centre doesn’t want to file additional affidavit to clarify if Pegasus spyware was used for snooping; insists on expert committee

New Delhi, September 13

The Supreme Court on Monday reserved its verdict on the nature of interim order to be passed on petitions seeking a court-monitored SIT probe into alleged snooping on politicians, journalists and activists using Pegasus spyware.

A Bench led by CJI NV Ramana reserved the order after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that the government didn’t want to file any additional affidavit to publicly clarify if Pegasus spyware was used for snooping or not even if it maintained it had nothing to hide.

“You have repeatedly said that you don’t want to put anything in affidavit. We also don’t want security issues to be put here. Presumably, a committee has been formed and then the report will be submitted here. Now we have to look into whole issue and decide something,” the Bench told Mehta.

As Mehta insisted that the matter should be examined by a panel of experts and the report should be submitted to the top court, the Bench said such a decision would not take the issue anywhere.

The Solicitor General said after the committee submits its report, it’s for the court to decide if the report would be put in the public domain or not.

The top court said the government was beating around the bush instead of clearly telling it if Pegasus spyware was used for snooping or not.

On Mehta citing national security as a reason for not making it public, the Bench said, “We are not interested to know about national interest issues, but in the face of allegations that some software was used to snoop certain citizens like lawyers, etc, we wanted to know if it was done to see if it’s permissible under law.”

On behalf of various petitioners, senior advocates Kapil Sibal, Shyam Divan and Rakesh Dwivedi insisted that the government must disclose if the controversial software was used in India or not as it’s a question of violation of fundamental rights of citizens.

The top court had on August 17 asked the Centre to respond to petitions seeking an SIT probe into alleged snooping on politicians, journalists and activists using Pegasus spyware even as it clarified that it didn’t want the government to divulge anything which could adversely impact national security.

Thereafter, the Centre had filed a short affidavit saying that the pleas seeking an independent probe into the Pegasus snooping allegations are based on “conjectures and surmises or on other unsubstantiated media reports or incomplete or uncorroborated material”. The Centre had said it was ready to set up an expert panel to dispel any wrong narrative spread by certain vested interests.

On September 7, it had deferred the hearing on the matter after the Centre sought time to decide if it would file a fresh affidavit in the matter.

An international media consortium had reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus spyware. It was also reported that phones of a former judge of the Supreme Court and its registrars were allegedly intercepted using the spyware.

Around 10 petitioners, including the Editors Guild of India and senior journalists N Ram and others, have sought an independent probe into the alleged snooping on eminent citizens, politicians and scribes by using Israeli firm NSO’s spyware Pegasus.

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