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New Delhi: The Editors Guild of India (EGI) has moved the Supreme Court seeking a court-monitored Special Investigation Team (SIT) probe into the reports of state-sponsored surveillance of journalists, activists and politicians using the Israeli spyware Pegasus.
“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 speaking with sources, investigate abuse of power and corruption, expose governmental incompetence, and speak with those in opposition to the government,” EGI said in its plea.
The writ petition was filed through advocates Rupali Samuel, Raghav Tankha and Lzafeer Ahmad B.F.
The media body in its plea sought the court to issue directions to the Union government to disclose details of contracts entered into with foreign companies, and how these spyware and surveillance tools were paid for. It also sought the Union government to disclose how many Indians who were spied on were charged with indulging in serious crimes.
“The citizens of India have a right to know if the executive government is infringing the limits of their authority under the Constitution and what steps have been taken to safeguard their fundamental rights. All attempts to seek accountability and enforce constitutional limits through parliamentary processes have been stonewalled. Through their intransigence, the respondents have deliberately avoided public debate on this issue and have provided obfuscated answers, forcing the petitioner to approach this Hon’ble Court to seek the enforcement of the public’s right to know, in performance of their obligations as trustees of the public, and on behalf of all citizens of India,” the plea said.
Both the houses of parliament have been witnessing strong protests from Opposition members and multiple adjournments over the Pegasus spyware issue.
“The indiscriminate use of these capabilities against journalists and other democratic actors destroys freedom of speech and poisons the heart of democratic accountability. The petitioners, are therefore, constrained to seek the intervention of this Hon’ble Court in enforcing rule of law, public accountability, ensuring law and order, and safeguarding of fundamental rights, including freedom of speech and expression, freedom of the press, and privacy,” the plea added.
The Supreme Court is slated to hear on August 5 pleas seeking a judicial probe into the Pegasus issue. A bench headed by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana will take up three public interest litigations on Thursday.
The first petition has been filed by advocate ML Sharma, the second by senior journalists N. Ram and Sashi Kumar, and the third by Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas. All these petitioners have asked for an independent probe into the Pegasus scandal by a court-monitored special investigation team.
On July 18, an investigation published by The Wire, as part of the Pegasus Project consortium of media organisations, revealed that 40 Indian journalists, along with political leaders and activists, were potential targets of Pegasus. The Wire is one of the 16 news organisations across the world that collaborated with a Paris-based non-profit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty’s Security Lab, which had accessed a leaked database of thousands of telephone numbers, “concentrated in countries known to surveil their citizens and also known to have been clients of NSO Group”.
The NSO Group is a private Israeli firm that is a worldwide leader in the field of private surveillance. It has categorically maintained that it only sells and licenses its products to “vetted governments”.