Pegasus: Supreme Court issues notice to Centre
The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notice to the Centre on a batch of petitions seeking a probe into the alleged Pegasus snooping scandal. The SC asserted the government should reply to the allegations, and said it would decide on the formation of a committee to investigate the allegations after receiving a response from the Centre. The matter has been adjourned for 10 days.
Appearing for the government, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta argued against the disclosure of facts on the Pegasus case in public citing national security concerns. "We will place everything before the court-mandated committee that will be set up. But it cannot be put out into public through affidavits. Let us have a committee and we will place all information before it," Mehta said.
The government maintained that making sensitive information on Pegasus public will help terrorists take preventive steps. "Suppose a terrorist organization uses technology to communicate with sleeper cells and we say we are using Pegasus they will modulate the apparatus...that it is not Pegasus compatible."
The SC said it does not want to compromise national security. However, it is seeking an affidavit from a competent authority as individuals have claimed that their phones are being hacked using Israeli spyware Pegasus. Stating such interception can only be done by the competent authority, the SC asked, "What is the problem with the competent authority to file an affidavit...without compromising national security?"
Appearing for the petitioners, senior advocate Kapil Sibal said, "We also do not want national security to be compromised, just want the government to answer whether it used Pegasus or not."
On Monday, the Centre filed an affidavit before the SC and said it will form a committee of experts to look into "all aspects" of the snooping allegations. The Centre also denied that it had used military-grade spyware to snoop into the phones of journalists, activists, and lawyers. The apex court is hearing multiple petitions on the alleged Pegasus surveillance issue.
Notably, several petitions have been filed before the SC in the matter. When the matter was first heard, the SC had observed that the Pegasus allegations were "serious, if true." The court had also barred petitioners from indulging in social media debate on the issue.
Pegasus is a 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 Indians citizens such as journalists, Opposition leaders, ministers, activists, among others.