Pegasus row: SC grants probe panel time till June 20
The Supreme Court on Friday granted the probe panel time till June 20 to conclude the investigation and submit a report on claims that the Pegasus spyware was used to target journalists, activists, and politicians. "The court-appointed technical panel has been analyzing phones for the spyware, and has also recorded comments from the concerned persons," said a bench led by Chief Justice NV Ramana.
- The probe ordered by SC is looking into whether the government used the Pegasus spyware to snoop on prominent persons.
- The SC's observations in the case had upset the central government as the latter opposed a judicial debate on the matter, citing national security.
- However, the court had maintained that the Centre cannot "get a free pass every time" citing national security.
The apex court stated that the standard operating procedure for testing the "infected" gadgets will be set. It claimed that the technical committee's probe might be concluded by the end of May before the supervising judge prepares a report for the scrutiny. Following that, the supervising judge must submit his report, the CJI stated, adding that the matter will be heard again in July.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, who is representing the petitioners in court, has asked the court to make the report public. However, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta objected, claiming that it was simply an interim report. Earlier, the SC bench directed the committee to examine the mobile devices as soon as possible, ideally within four weeks, and to report to the presiding judge.
Last year in October, the Supreme Court ordered an independent probe into the Pegasus snooping scandal involving allegations of widespread surveillance by the central government. The court also pulled up the Centre for citing the national security argument. Over 300 verified Indian mobile numbers were targeted for monitoring using Pegasus including that of Congress Leader Rahul Gandhi, as per an international consortium.
The court-appointed expert committee is headed by Justice RV Raveendran, a former SC judge. The expert panel also comprises Alok Joshi (former IPS Officer) and Dr. Sundeep Oberoi, Chairman, Sub Committee (International Organisation of Standardisation/International Electro-Technical Commission/Joint Technical Committee).
A bench comprising Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli heard pleas seeking a probe into the Pegasus case. The petitioners included advocate ML Sharma, MP John Brittas, Hindu Group Director N Ram, Asianet founder Sashi Kumar, the Editors Guild of India, and journalists Rupesh Kumar Singh, Ipsa Shatakshi, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, SNM Abidi, and Prem Shankar Jha.
Pegasus is military-level spyware—developed by the Israeli company NSO Group—which is only made available to vetted government clients. It had made headlines in 2019 for its reported use by various governments to track individuals. In July, a global consortium of media houses revealed the names of 50,000 potential surveillance targets, including 300 Indian citizens.