New Delhi [India], August 17 (ANI): The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notice to the Centre and asked it to respond on a batch of petitions seeking a court-monitored probe into the reports of the government allegedly using Israeli software Pegasus to spy on politicians, activists and journalists.
A Bench headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana said it will decide what to do in future, including whether a government request for permission to set up a committee of independent experts to examine all aspects should be allowed.
The Bench said it will hear the matter after 10 days.
During the hearing, the Centre maintained that what software was used for the interception in the interest of national security cannot be “open for public debate”.
The Centre added that it is willing to place the details of surveillance before the expert committee proposed to be constituted by it to examine the issues and the committee can give a report to the Supreme Court.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the government told the apex court that several kinds of softwares are used by governments and militaries to check anti-national and terrorist activities. “No government will make public what software it is using to allow terror networks to modulate its systems and escape tracking,” he added.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal appearing for petitioners, senior journalists N Ram and Shashi Kumar said the security of the state is as important to us as to the government. “Our intention is to not have security details but it must reply whether Pegasus as a technology was used or not,” Sibal said.
The Centre today also maintained that it does not want to file any additional affidavit in the Pegasus issue, as national security aspects are involved.
“If the government is disclosing in public that it is not using a particular interception software, the terrorist organizations will take advantage of that information to change their communication settings,” Mehta said.
Solicitor General said such matters cannot be placed in an affidavit and be made a matter of public debate. “Suppose the government says it is not using Pegasus, the terrorist organization will reset their communications to make them not Pegasus compatible,” Solicitor General told top court.
The apex court said it does not want to compel the government to disclose any information or to compromise national security, but only want information regarding authorisation for alleged interception of the phones of civilians.
“We as a court do not want to compromise with the security of this country or defence of the nation. Here the issue is different, there are people alleging hacking of their phones. In the case of civilians also rules permit interception, but only on permission by the competent authority. What is the problem if that competent authority files an affidavit before us? We don’t want you to say anything related to national security,” the Bench told the Centre.
Yesterday, the Central government had filed an affidavit and apprised the top court that it has decided to constitute a Committee of Experts, which will examine all the issues relating to the alleged Pegasus snooping issue.
The Centre had also denied all the allegations of snooping and maintained the petitions are based on conjectures and there is no substance in the accusations.
The petitioners’ lawyers had repeatedly told the Bench that the Central government has evaded answering the question if it or any of its agencies have ever used the Pegasus spyware and urged the Court to direct the government to come clean on this issue.
There are as many as 11 pleas filed before the top court by senior journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar, Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas of Communist Marxist Party of India (Marxist) and advocate ML Sharma, former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha, RSS ideologue KN Govindacharya.
Journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, SNM Abdi, Prem Shankar Jha, Rupesh Kumar Singh and Ipsa Shatakshi, who are reported to be on the potential list of snoop targets of Pegasus spyware, had also approached the top court along with The Editors Guild of India (EGI) among others.
The pleas sought inquiry headed by a sitting or retired judge of the top court to investigate the alleged snooping.
The plea said the targeted surveillance using military-grade spyware is an unacceptable violation of the right to privacy, which has been held to be a fundamental right under Articles 14, 19 and 21 by the Supreme Court in the KS Puttaswamy case.
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