Pegasus row: Centre to set up probe committee; denies allegations
In an affidavit submitted before the Supreme Court, the Centre has "unequivocally" denied allegations that the government used military-grade spyware Pegasus to hack the phones of journalists, lawyers, and activists. The government will also establish a committee of experts to look into "all aspects" of the snooping allegations. The SC—which is hearing a batch of petitions in the matter—has adjourned the case till tomorrow.
'Committee to dispel any wrong narrative spread by vested interests'
Stating that the snooping allegations were based on conjectures and "unsubstantiated" media reports, the government said the committee has been set up "to dispel any wrong narrative spread by certain vested interests and with an object of examining the issues raised." However, the government did not set a time frame for the constitution of such a task force and did not reveal much else.
'Government must answer facts; issue larger than individual interception'
Appearing for the petitioner, senior advocate Kapil Sibal said the issue is far larger than individual interception as two pillars of democracy, the judiciary and the media, were infiltrated. Referring to the government's admission in Parliament in 2019 that attempts were made to access the data of 121 Indian users, Sibal said the government must inform what steps it has taken since then.
Affidavit not filed by Home Secretary: Sibal
Pointing out the Home Secretary's power to authorize surveillance, Sibal said, "My problem is that the affidavit has not even been filed by the Home Secretary. It's been filed by the Additional Secretary IT Ministry. The Home Secretary is the competent authority to authorize surveillance."
SC hearing many petitions on the Pegasus snooping scandal
Notably, several petitions have been filed before the SC in the matter. These petitions include those filed by journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar; the Editors Guild of India; Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas; probable Pegasus targets Prem Shankar Jha, Rupesh Kumar Singh, Ipsa Shataksi; Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and SNM Abdi—whose phones were found to be infected by the spyware after a forensics analysis.
SC had earlier said snooping allegations were 'serious'
On August 5, while hearing the petitions, the Supreme Court had said that the allegations of snooping were "serious." "No doubt, the allegations are serious, if the reports are true," the SC had said. Last week, the SC had also asked the petitioners to refrain from social media debates on the issue. The court had said that the matter should be deliberated in court.
What is Pegasus controversy?
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.
Pegasus controversy stalled Parliament's Monsoon session
The Pegasus controversy has whipped up a political storm in the country. During the recent Monsoon Session of Parliament, the Opposition's protests seeking discussions on the matter also stalled Parliamentary proceedings. Two ministries, the Information and Technology Ministry and the Defence Ministry, have so far clarified before Parliament that the government has not used Pegasus to hack the phones of Indian citizens.