The Supreme Court, on Thursday, observed that the Pegasus surveillance allegations are serious as nine petitions are seeking probe into the snooping controversy. As such, it asked the lawyers appearing in the nine petitions to serve copies of their petition on the Government of India.
The petitioners said they have strong reasons to believe that they have been subjected to a deeply intrusive surveillance and hacking by the Government of India or some other third parties. They also highlighted that the Government of India is yet to make a categorical denial of using the Pegasus spyware.
The Chief Justice of India, NV Ramana said during the hearing that no doubt, the allegations are serious, if the reports are true. “Truth has to come out, that’s a different story. We don’t know whose names are there,” he said.
The CJI raised two queries with the first being, why the individually aggrieved petitioners have not filed FIRs and second, why the petitions are filed now though Pegasus issue surfaced in 2019. Justice Ramana highlighted that the petitions are based on newspaper reports and the petitioners could have put more effort to collect verifiable materials, as most of them are knowledgeable and resourceful journalists and activists.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar, told the court that Pegasus is a rogue technology and infiltrates our life without our knowledge. “All that it requires is a phone and enters into our lives. Its assault on privacy, human dignity and value of our human republic, it penetrates into our national internet backbone.”
Taking note, the CJI said the allegations are serious in nature if reports in media are correct. “You all know that there is prima facie material as well as credibility of reports where we can order an enquiry etc. Unfortunately, what I read from writs, in May 2019 this came to light I don’t know there was no serious concern about this issue.”
Sibal told the court that there are names of people who are subject to direct cases of infiltration. He pointed out the editors’ guild matter about the direct infringement. “There is an order of the California court. It reads as once activated, it causes the target device to connect with the defendants’ malware. The malware would then enable and then data is transferred. This is a court order.” He said the spyware is only sold to government agencies and cannot be sold privately. “NSO technology is involved in the international arena. It’s just not government but the declaration opens the aspect of the involvement in the international scene.”
Referring to the plea by Editors Guide, Sibal said if the Centre said this is happening, why did they not lodge an FIR? “Why has the Government of India of India kept quiet? This is about Indians privacy and safety. This technology cannot be used in India if not purchased by the government.
The CJI pointed out that it could be the state government also but Sibal said the Government of India needs to answer on that front. “It is not an internal matter. We cannot give all answers as we don’t have access and only governments do. They have to state why they did not take any action.”
Appearing for activist Jagdeep Chhokkar, senior advocate Shyam Divan, told the bench the Governments of USA and France have launched investigation into the Pegasus reports and have sought the responses of Israel government. He said these are not some media reports and are extensive investigative reports backed by forensic examinations. Divan argued that for a private citizen to find out that a spyware has been turned on him by the government, is something perse unconstitutional. “It constitutes a war by the government on the citizen.”
The petitions were filed by Advocate ML Sharma, journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar, CPI(M) Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas, five Pegasus victims – Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, SNM Abdi, Prem Shankar Jha, Rupesj Kumar Singh and Ipsa Shataksi, social activist Jagdeep Chhokkar, Narendra Kumar Mishra and the Editors Guild of India.
This case will be heard next on August 10.