Did Centre ever use Pegasus, asks Supreme Court

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August 17, 2021 1:15 AM

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta expressed reluctance to reply citing the larger implications of the case concerning national security. The Bench, led by Chief Justice NV Ramana, adjourned the hearing on a batch of petitions seeking a probe into the snooping allegations till Tuesday.

An international media consortium had reported that more than 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus.An international media consortium had reported that more than 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus.

The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre if it wanted to bring on record whether Pegasus spyware was used or not, to intercept phone of journalists, politicians, activists and court staff.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta expressed reluctance to reply citing the larger implications of the case concerning national security. The Bench, led by Chief Justice NV Ramana, adjourned the hearing on a batch of petitions seeking a probe into the snooping allegations till Tuesday.

However, the apex court made it clear that it cannot compel the government to file an affidavit if it is reluctant to do so. “If you (government) have a change of mind, let us know tomorrow. If Mehta may decide to file an affidavit, then we have nothing to say, else we will hear all of you,” the CJI said.

Earlier in the day, the Centre “unequivocally” denied all allegations, saying they are based on conjectures, media reports and uncorroborated or incomplete material.

In an affidavit filed by the Union Ministry for Electronics and Information Technology (IT), the government claimed that the questions raised by the petitioners have already been answered by the IT minister in Parliament, while seeking dismissal of all petitions.

However, “to dispel any wrong narrative spread by vested interests and with an object of examining the issues raised, we will constitute a committee of experts in the field which will go in to all aspects of the issue”, it said.

The top court also questioned the government on how the technical committee will check what authorisations have been given by the government, and whether it will be able to examine contracts and information on the procurement and use of the Pegasus software, if at all it has been bought by the government.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar, however, said the affidavit filed by the Centre does not say whether the government or its agencies had used the spyware. He also expressed dissatisfaction over the government forming its own committee to probe allegations against it. “We do not want the government, which might have used Pegasus or its agency might have used it, to set up a committee on its own,” he said.

The SC was hearing as many as 10 petitions, including one filed by the Editors Guild of India, seeking an independent probe into the alleged snooping by government agencies on eminent citizens, politicians and scribes by using Israeli cyber intelligence firm NSO’s spyware Pegasus. Other petitioners include Rajya Sabha member John Brittas, social activist Jagdeep Chhokar, and journalists such as N Ram, Sashi Kumar, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Rupesh Kumar Singh.

An international media consortium had reported that more than 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus.

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