A bench comprising Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli had reserved order on September 13, saying it only wanted to know whether or not the Centre used the Pegasus spyware through illegal methods to allegedly snoop on citizens.
The apex court had observed orally that it would set up a technical expert committee to inquire into the matter and pass an interim order on the pleas seeking an independent probe into the grievances of the alleged surveillance of certain eminent Indians by hacking their phones using Israeli firm NSO’s spyware, Pegasus.
The top court’s observations on constituting the committee assume significance in view of the Centre’s statement that it would set up an expert panel on its own to look into the entire issue.
The apex court had said it would pronounce order in a few days and asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, to mention the case if the government had a re-think about filing a detailed affidavit.
The bench had said that it only wanted to know from the Centre, which expressed unwillingness to file a detailed affidavit citing national security, whether Pegasus was used to allegedly spy on individuals and if it was done lawfully.
Observing that concerns have been raised by journalists and others over violation of privacy in the Pegasus row, the top court had said it was not interested in knowing the details related to national security.
The Centre maintained it did not wish to file a detailed affidavit on whether a particular software is used or not as it was not a matter for public discussion and will not be in the “larger national interest”.
The law officer had contended that the disclosure whether the country was using a particular software or not may cause harm and alert all potential targets, including terror groups.
“We had to have your affidavit to understand your stand. We do not want to say anything further, the court had told Mehta, adding that if a spyware is used by the government then it has to be as per the procedure established by the law.
The law officer had said the government has nothing to hide and that is why the Centre has on its own said it will constitute a committee of domain experts who will look into the allegations and report to the court.
I am not averse to certain individuals claiming invasion of privacy. This is serious and must be gotten into. The question is whether it is Pegasus or something. Our stand is putting this into an affidavit will not serve national interest… Hence allow us to form a committee of domain experts without the government members, Mehta had added.
The apex court was hearing a batch of pleas, including senior journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar along with the Editors Guild of India, seeking independent probe into the alleged Pegasus snooping matter.
The pleas seeking independent probe are related to reports of alleged snooping by government agencies on eminent citizens, politicians and scribes by using Israeli firm NSO’s spyware Pegasus.
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.