SC to pronounce judgment tomorrow in Pegasus spyware case

The Supreme Court will pronounce its judgment tomorrow in a batch of petitions seeking a court-monitored investigation in the Pegasus spyware case.

On September 23, the Chief Justice of India had said that the Court was thinking of setting up a technical committee to look into the allegations of snooping of journalists, activists, politicians etc., using the Pegasus spyware developed by the Israeli company NSO. The CJI had said that the order was getting delayed due to difficulties in identifying persons willing to be part of the technical committee.

It was on September 13 that a bench comprising CJI NV Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli reserved interim order in the Pegasus case after the Central Government expressed unwillingness to file an affidavit stating whether it has used the Pegasus spyware or not.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the bench that the matter was related to national security, and hence cannot be made a subject matter of a judicial debate or public discourse. He said that the Government cannot reveal on affidavit whether it has used any particular software for security purposes, as it will alert terror groups. However, taking note of the seriousness of the allegations, the Centre has agreed to constitute a technical committee to examine the issue, and the said committee will submit a report to the Court, the SG added.

The bench had observed that it did not want any details pertaining to national security or defence but was only seeking clarification regarding allegations of snooping of civilians

“We are not interested in knowing matters related to security or defence. We are only concerned to know whether Govt has used any method other than admissible under the law”, Justice Surya Kant had said.

“We are again reiterating we are not interested in knowing matters related to security or defence. We are only concerned, as my brother said, we have journalists, activists etc before us…to know whether Govt has used any method other than admissible under law,” CJI NV Ramana had said.

The petitioners – represented by Senior Advocates Kapil Sibal, Shyam Divan, Meenakshi Arora, Rakesh Dwivedi, Dinesh Dwivedi, CU Singh – submitted that a committee constituted by the Centre cannot be expected to function in a fair and unbiased manner. According to the petitioners, NSO, the Israeli firm which developed Pegasus, sells its services only to governments, and when the Government of India was under a cloud of suspicion, it cannot be expected to conduct a fair probe.

The Supreme Court had on 17th August issued notice before admission to the Central Government in the batch of petitions.

The Central Government had told the Supreme Court that it does not want to file an additional affidavit in the Pegasus issue, as national security aspects are involved. The Centre had added that it is willing to place the details before the expert committee proposed to be constituted by it to examine the issues.

The Pegasus controversy erupted on July 18 after The Wire and several other international publications published reports about the mobile numbers which were potential targets of the spyware service given by NSO company to various governments, including India. 40 Indian journalists, political leaders like Rahul Gandhi, election strategist Prashant Kishore, former ECI member Ashok Lavassa etc are reported to be on the list of targets, as per The Wire.

Several petitions were thereafter filed before the Top Court seeking an independent probe into the matter, notice whereupon is yet to be issued. However, the Top Court has expressed concern over the alleged incident, saying that no doubt, the allegations are serious, if the reports are true. “Truth has to come out, that’s a different story. We don’t know whose names are there”, CJI NV Ramana said.

The petitions have been filed by several people including Advocate ML Sharma, journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar, CPI(M) Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas, five pegasus targets( Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, SNM Abdi, Prem Shankar Jha, Rupesh Kumar Singh and Ipsa Shataksi), social activist Jagdeep Chhokkar, Narendra Kumar Mishra and the Editors Guild of India.