SC sets up Committee to probe into Pegasus Row

SC

SC sets up Committee to probe into Pegasus Row

Supreme Court constituted a 3-member expert panel to probe into the Pegasus snooping row. A 3-member bench, led by the Chief Justice of India N.V Ramana and comprising of Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, said the 3-member panel would be headed by former Supreme Court judge RV Raveendran.

The bench observed that there has been no specific denial by the central government, and thus they are left with no option other than setting up of a committee to probe into the matter.

Observations of the court

The apex court criticized the central government over its refusal to clarify whether it had purchased and used the software against the citizens of the nation

The court said that it gave ample opportunity to Centre to assist the court and respond to the allegation, but Centre’s limited affidavit did not shed any light on the issue.

The court observed that the government cannot be given a free pass by raising national security issues and the court cannot remain a mute spectator when there is a serious allegation of violation of citizens right. The SC said the Right to privacy violation needs to be examined.

Indiscriminate spying of citizens cannot be allowed except in accordance with law, the Court observed in the judgment.

Right to privacy

Right to privacy is a fundamental right secured to every citizen of India under article 21 of the constitution. It was observed in the 2017’s Justice K.S Puttaswamy (Retd) vs Union of India case, popularly known as the Aadhar case.

About the committee

The functioning of the committee will be overseen by the apex court directly. The committee will be headed by RV Raveendran, former Supreme Court Judge. Other members will be Alok Joshi and Sandeep Oberoi. The Committee is to submit its observations “expeditiously” in 8-week time. The petition is set to be heard again 8 weeks later.

Scope of the Committee

The committee is set up with the task of looking into whether Pegasus was acquired by the Government of India to spy on its own citizens. The committee will also investigate the laws which were used if such a surveillance was carried out.

What actions, if any, have been taken by the Government of India post 2019, when the Pegasus software first came into light? – This question is also to be answered by the committee.

Pegasus Software

Pegasus is the name of the infamous surveillance software developed by the Israeli cyberarms firm NSO. The software first came into limelight in 2019, however, no actions were taken back then.

In July of 2021, many revelations were made by the leaked data about the Pegasus software. It was revealed that a lot of politicians, journalists, persons of interests of the world, including India, were prima facie victims of the software. The software was used against them to siphon off their data.

This was made possible by using the state-of-the-art technology of the software, the software could be planted into a phone with just a text message or sometimes even a Whatsapp message. The victim need not even respond to the message to activate the software.

Pegasus would then take over the camera, microphone and other features of the phone to turn a smartphone into a pocket detective.

The Israeli firm NSO says that they only allow the software to be used by Governments after they are authorized to make a sale to the government from the Israeli government.

NSO Group has published sections of contracts which require customers to use its products only for criminal and national security investigations and has stated that it has an industry-leading approach to human rights.

Prominent victims of Pegasus

The France-based media non-profit organisation “Forbidden Stories” had accessed a leaked database of 50,000 numbers who may have been targeted for surveillance by clients of NSO Group. The French organization worked with many news agencies to go through the 50,000 names. From India, The Wire was chosen to carry out the search for Indian names. The wire was able to identify and mark 161 names which were from India.

Rahul Gandhi, Prashant Kishor, Abhishek Banerjee, Ashok Lavasa, Alok Verma, Rakesh Asthana, etc were a few names which featured on the list of Pegasus.

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