The Supreme Court will take a call today on whether there will be a court-monitored investigation into the explosive Pegasus snooping row that dominated headlines earlier this year. The judgment will be given at 10.30 am by a three-judge bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli. After a detailed hearing in the case, the top court had said that it was in the process of forming an independent committee of experts to probe the matter.
Apart from a court-monitored investigation, the petitioners – who included former union minister Yashwant Sinha, CPM MP John Brittas, Supreme Court advocate ML Sharma, the Editors’ Guild of India and individual journalists – had asked the court to order the government to produce details of the alleged unauthorised surveillance using the Pegasus software, built by the Israeli firm NSO Group.
The government, the petitioners said, should disclose the details of how it obtained licence for the spyware, used it directly or indirectly, and the list of people who were targeted.
The Centre had refused to reveal say whether the spyware was used or not and citing national security issues, told the court that it cannot file a detailed affidavit. It had, however, offered to form an independent committee of experts that could investigate the issue under the Supreme Court’s supervision.
The clutch of petitions were filed in the top court after a consortium of global media houses reported in July that a host of opposition politicians, journalists and others were targets of the spyware.
According to reports by news portal “The Wire”, more than 142 people in India were potential targets. The alleged list included Congress’s Rahul Gandhi, poll strategist Prashant Kishor, two serving Union Ministers, an ex-Election Commissioner, two registrars of the Supreme Court, an old number of a former judge, a close aide of a former Attorney General and 40 journalists.
Forensic analysis of some of the cellphones by the Security Lab of Amnesty International confirmed a security breach, the reports said.
The government came under pressure after the software vendor NSO said its clients are only “vetted” governments and their agencies. With the opposition up in arms over the reports, little was done during the Monsoon Session of parliament.
Even BJP ally Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister of Bihar, joined the opposition demand for an investigation.
The government gave a statement in parliament, saying no illegal interception has been done. But no discussion on the issue took place in either house, which had incensed the opposition.
Disclaimer: The NSO group, which owns Pegasus, admits this is spyware and is used to hack phones, but says it does business only with governments and government agencies. The Israeli company says it does not corroborate the list of potential targets reported by media companies around the world. The Indian government has said there is “no substance” to the reports of Pegasus being used by it against opposition leaders, journalists and others. NDTV cannot independently verify the authenticity of the list of those who were supposedly targeted.