HE Editors Guild of India(EGI) has approached the Supreme Court to seek an independent investigation into the Pegasus spy case. The writ petition sought a Special Investigation Team (SIT) investigation into the alleged spying of around 300 Indians including many incumbent and former ministers, a Supreme Court judge, journalists, lawyers, activists and others.
Stating that illegal snooping is a threat to democracy, the petition read, “The Pegasus cyber attacks have raised severe questions as to the integrity of several democratic institutions and the political process. Amongst names on the list of potential targets is included a former Election Commissioner (Ashok Lavasa), several members of the Opposition, and political strategists. If unaddressed, this can shake the public faith in democratic processes, and create a chilling effect, which is poisonous to the health of any democracy.”
Alleging that the Union government is “avoiding public debate” and giving “obfuscated answers”, the petition sought the court to make the government produce details of contracts signed with the foreign companies for deploying spywares for surveillance.
The main demands of the EGI in the petition were as follows:
- Direct the Union of India to produce any contracts, agreements, memoranda of understanding entered into with foreign companies for supplying spyware, hacking or electronic surveillance which has been used, whether authorised or not, on Indian citizens.
- Direct the Union of India to disclose the details of how these spywares, hacking or electronic surveillance tools were paid for.
- Direct the Union of India to disclose the details of the list of people that have been under electronic surveillance, hacking, or otherwise spied on, including the details of who prepared and populated the said list and the details of every Indian citizen on the list.
- Direct the Union of India to disclose the details of how many of the Indian citizens who have been under electronic surveillance, hacking, or otherwise spied on, were charged with indulging in serious crime.
Earlier, the five journalists Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, S.N.M. Abidi, Prem Shankar Jha, Rupesh Kumar Singh, and Ipsa Shatakshi, who featured in the snoop list had filed a similar petition seeking an investigation into the issue.
N. Ram, director of The Hindu Group and senior journalist Sashi Kumar had also filed a petition through Advocate Kapil Sibal citing similar threat to democracy and independent institutions.
Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas and Advocate ML Sharma have also filed PILs in this regard.
Earlier, a global collaboration of 17 media outlets, which included The Wire, The Guardian, The Washington Post among others had revealed under Pegasus Project that 300 Indians were either hacked or identified for snooping by the Israeli software. The list included over 40 journalists, including The Wire founder-editors M.K. Venu and Siddharth Varadarajan. All the selected people were targeted between 2017 and 2021, according to the expose.
“Freedom of the press relies on non-interference by the government and its agencies in reporting of journalists, including their ability to securely and confidentially speak with sources, investigate abuse of power and corruption, expose governmental incompetence, and speak with those in opposition to the government”, EGI said in the plea.