Supreme Court’s Pegasus Verdict: ‘Poorest man in his cottage bid defiance to Crown’, eight stinging remarks from top court’s judgement

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October 27, 2021 7:16 PM

The court today said that the committee has been formed to probe the falsity and discover the truth in Pegasus row and added that allegations of Right to Privacy violation need to be examined.

The bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said it is undeniable that surveillance and the knowledge that one is under the threat of being spied on can affect the way an individual decides to exercise his or her rights.

In a setback for the Modi government, the Supreme Court today appointed a three-member committee of independent cyber experts to probe the allegations of misuse of Israeli spyware Pegasus for surveillance of certain people in India. The court today said that the committee has been formed to probe the falsity and discover the truth in Pegasus row and added that allegations of Right to Privacy violation need to be examined. The three-member committee will be headed by RV Raveendran, former Supreme Court Judge. Justice Raveendran will oversee the functioning of the panel of cyber security, digital forensics, networks and hardware and the three members are Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, Prabaharan P and Ashwin Anil Gumaste. The apex court said that former IPS officer Alok Joshi and Sundeep Oberoi — Chairman, Sub Committee in (International Organisation of Standardisation/International Electro-Technical Commission/JointTechnical Committee) — will assist Justice Raveendran to oversee the task to the committee. Below are key highlights from the Supreme Court’s judgement:

* ‘Justice must not only be done, but also be seen to be done’, said the court while rejecting the Centre’s plea to allow it to appoint an expert committee to probe the allegations of use of spyware Pegasus for surveillance of certain people in India.

* ‘Mute spectator’: The Supreme Court said that every citizen needs protection against privacy violation and mere invocation of national security by State does not render the court a mute spectator. It said that the State cannot get a free pass every time the spectre of ‘national security’ is raised. “National security cannot be the bugbear that the judiciary shies away from, by virtue of its mere mentioning. Although this Court should be circumspect in encroaching the domain of national security, no omnibus prohibition can be called for against judicial review,” said the court.

* ‘Vague Denial’: There has only been a vague denial in the limited affidavit filed by the Centre, which cannot be sufficient, said the top court.

* ‘Effort is to uphold Constitutional aspirations and rule of law’: The court said that it has always been conscious of not entering political thicket and added, “We make it clear that our effort is to uphold Constitutional aspirations and rule of law, without allowing ourselves to be consumed in political rhetoric.”

* ‘Orwellian concern’: Quoting English novelist George Orwell, a bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said, “If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.” The apex court also said, “Members of a civilised democratic society have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Privacy is not the singular concern of journalists or social activists. Every citizen of India ought to be protected against violations of privacy. It is this expectation which enables us to exercise our choices, liberties, and freedom”.

* ‘Poorest man in his cottage bid defiance to Crown’: The top court quoted British statesman William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham to drive home the point of privacy. The bench said, “The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the force of the Crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake, the wind may blow through it, the storm may enter, the rain may enter but the King of England cannot enter! All his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!”

* ‘Large scale violation of the fundamental rights’: The court said that it had taken similar actions in many cases before when it found the large scale violation of the fundamental rights. “Such a course of action has been adopted by this Court in various other circumstances when the Court found it fit in the facts and circumstances of the case to probe the truth or falsity of certain allegations, taking into account the public importance and the alleged scope and nature of the large scale violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens of the country,” said the bench.

* ‘Freedom of press is an important pillar of democracy’: The bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said it is undeniable that surveillance and the knowledge that one is under the threat of being spied on can affect the way an individual decides to exercise his or her rights. “Such a scenario might result in self-censorship. This is of particular concern when it relates to the freedom of the press, which is an important pillar of democracy. Such chilling effect on the freedom of speech is an assault on the vital public-watchdog role of the press, which may undermine the ability of the press to provide accurate and reliable information,” said the bench.

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