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Pegasus snooping row: SC appointed expert committee submits interim report; hearing on Feb 23

The apex court had said that it is cognizant of the State’s interest to ensure that life and liberty are preserved and must balance the same.

ANI | New Delhi |

A technical committee set up to look into the allegations of the government allegedly using Israeli software Pegasus to spy on politicians, activists, and journalists have submitted its interim report in the Supreme Court.

A bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli will take up the pending petitions for hearing on February 23 and peruse the interim report. Last year, the apex court had appointed an expert technical committee, headed by a former top court judge to look into the allegations of snooping by Pegasus.

The top court had said that in a democratic country governed by the rule of law, “indiscriminate spying on individuals cannot be allowed.” It ordered the formation of a three-member committee, headed by former top court judge RV Raveendran.

The top court had noted that in the absence of the Centre not clarifying its stand on the issue, the court had no option but to set up an expert panel.

The Centre had refused to file a detailed affidavit on the issue citing national security.

Justice Raveendran was assisted by former IPS officer Alok Joshi and chairman of the sub-committee in the International Organisation of Standardisation/ International Electro-Technical Commission’s Joint Technical Committee, Sundeep Oberoi.

The top court in its order had said, “We live in the era of the information revolution, where the entire lives of individuals are stored in the cloud or in a digital dossier. We must recognize that while technology is a useful tool for improving the lives of the people, at the same time, it can also be used to breach that sacred private space of an individual.”

Members of civilized democratic society have a reasonable expectation of privacy, CJI Ramana had said.

“Privacy is not the singular concern of journalists or social activists. Every citizen of India ought to be protected against violations of privacy. It is this expectation that enables us to exercise our choices, liberties, and freedom. As with all the other fundamental rights, this Court therefore must recognize that certain limitations exist when it comes to the right to privacy as well. However, any restrictions imposed must necessarily pass constitutional scrutiny,” the bench had added in its order.

As with all the other fundamental rights, this Court therefore must recognize that certain limitations exist when it comes to the right to privacy as well, the top court had said, adding that however, any restrictions imposed must necessarily pass constitutional scrutiny.

The apex court had said that it is cognizant of the State’s interest to ensure that life and liberty are preserved and must balance the same.

It is undeniable that surveillance and the knowledge that one is under the threat of being spied on can affect the way an individual decides to exercise his or her rights and such a scenario might result in self-censorship, the apex court stated further.

The mere invocation of national security by the State does not render the Court a mute spectator, said the apex court. It further had noted that there has been no specific denial of any of the facts by Centre averred by the Petitioners.

The bench had said it has passed an order appointing an Expert Committee whose functioning will be overseen by a retired Judge of the Supreme Court to probe the truth or falsity of certain allegations.

The Centre had earlier told the apex court that it was willing to set up a committee of independent experts to examine all aspects of the alleged Pegasus snooping row. It had maintained that what software was used for an interception in the interest of national security can’t be open for public debate.

Several pleas were filed before the top court on snooping row by senior journalists N Ram, and Sashi Kumar, Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas of Communist 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 pleas said that 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.