Journalists N Ram, Sashi Kumar move SC over Pegasus scandal
Senior journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar have approached the Supreme Court seeking an independent investigation into the alleged Pegasus snooping scandal. The petitioners sought directions for an independent inquiry headed by a sitting/retired SC judge to probe the allegations that military-grade Israeli spyware Pegasus was used to hack the phones of over 300 Indian citizens, including lawyers, politicians, journalists, and human rights activists.
Petitioners sought directions to Centre to disclose information on Pegasus
The petitioners submitted that a forensic analysis by the Security Lab of Amnesty International found Pegasus-induced security breaches in the phones of persons identified as potential Pegasus surveillance targets. Thus, the petitioners sought directions to the Centre to disclose if the government or any of its agencies have obtained a license for Pegasus and used it "directly or indirectly" for surveillance on the citizens.
What questions did the petitioners raise?
Based on the revelations made by global media outlets, the petitioners asked whether attempts of targeted surveillance have been made on journalists, doctors, lawyers, Opposition politicians, ministers, or constitutional functionaries by illegally hacking into their phones using Pegasus spyware. The petitioners also asked about the implications of such a hacking attempt on free speech and expression of dissent in the country.
Use of military-grade spyware abridges fundamental rights: Petitioners
The petitioners submitted that if the allegations were true, targeted surveillance using military-grade spyware is a violation of the right to privacy and an "attack on communicational, intellectual, and informational privacy, and critically endangers meaningful exercise of privacy." Referring to reports of targeted hacking of journalists, politicians, and lawyers, the petitioners further said it compromises the fundamental right to free speech and expression.
Petitioners said Telegraph Act has been bypassed
The petition said legal surveillance laws under Section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act have been bypassed in the Pegasus case. It said surveillance is justified only in cases of public emergency or public safety. "The existence of such conditions must be inferred reasonably and cannot be determined solely on the assessment of the government," it said, but these mandatory conditions were not met.
Pegasus attack constitutes 'cyber-terrorism': Petition
The journalists also said that the alleged hacking of phones constitutes a criminal offense punishable under various sections of the Information and Technology Act. "The attack...constitutes an act of cyber-terrorism that has several grave political and security ramifications, especially considering that the devices of government ministers, senior political figures and constitutional functionaries which may contain sensitive information have been targeted," it added.
Third such petition in SC; 2 other probes ongoing
This is the third petition filed before the apex court on the Pegasus controversy. Last week, CPI(M) MP John Brittas and advocate ML Sharma, moved the Supreme Court separately seeking a court-monitored inquiry into the issue. Meanwhile, Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee also formed a panel to investigate the alleged surveillance. Separately, a Shashi Tharoor-led Parliamentary panel has also decided to take up the matter.