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New Delhi: Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana has said that the Supreme Court will pass orders setting up a technical committee to investigate allegations of journalists, activists and scholars having been snooped upon with the use of the Pegasus spyware, LiveLaw has reported. An order is likely next week.
The CJI made this oral announcement to senior advocate Chander Uday Singh, who is counsel for one of the Pegasus petitioners, while Singh was appearing in an unrelated case. Singh noted that he will inform the court’s decision to senior advocate Kapil Sibal who is the lead counsel for the petitioners in the case.
CJI Ramana further told Singh that the Supreme Court was keen to pass orders this week itself but had to defer it as members that the court had in mind for selection into the technical committee had expressed personal difficulties that have kept them from joining it.
As part of the Pegasus Project, The Wire and other international publications had reported on a leaked database of phone numbers which could have been potentially snooped upon with the use of a malware sold by Israel’s NSO Group. The group has claimed it only has ‘vetted government’ clients. As the The Wire has revealed, in India, those potentially and successfully spied upon include opposition politicians, activists, industrialists, lawyers and journalists.
The Union government on September 13, had expressed distinct unwillingness to file a detailed affidavit on the matter, citing that it was concerned over national security. The Supreme Court bench of CJI Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli had reserved its interim order on the batch of petitions calling for investigation into the use of the spyware on Indian citizens.
A section of journalists, lawyers, activists and politicians – including five confirmed targets on whom the Pegasus software was used – moved Supreme Court with nine petitions in total, asking for a judicial probe into the matter.
CJI Ramana’s words to senior advocate Singh would indicate that the Supreme Court was inclined to grant this plea.
Several opposition parties, too, had demanded an independent judicial probe into the findings and brought the matter up in both houses of the parliament during the monsoon session. The Union government did not discuss the matter despite repeated requests.
However, in successive hearings Solicitor General Tushar Mehta claimed that any affidavit filed by the Centre in response to the apex court’s notice would compromise national security and that a terrorist organisation could take preventive steps if details are divulged.
At the last hearing, the Supreme Court had sought to disburse the Centre of the notion that it does not wish to interfere in national security matters.
“We are repeatedly saying that we don’t want things on national security in public domain. Petitioners have also said. Suppose the committee is formed. Its report will also come in public domain,” it had said.
As The Wire had reported, while the SG had stressed on a government-approved committee to look into the matter, counsel of the petitioners pointed out the fallacy of such an exercise considering that their main contention was whether the government itself had used the software.
“It will not be a credible exercise in which people of the country will have faith,” advocate Rakesh Dwivedi had said.