Noting that the Centre should have justified its stand, the Supreme Court on Wednesday set up a three-member committee to probe the “falsity and discover the truth” in the Pegasus snooping spyware case in which journalists, lawmakers, judges and politicians across the globe have been, according to reports, subjects of surveillance.
The clamour over the Pegasus controversy had resulted in a stuttering Parliament sessions and adjournments as the opposition mounted pressure to form a special investigation team following the allegations.
This committee will be supervised by a retired top court judge Justice R.V. Raveendran, who will be assisted by Alok Joshi, former IPS officer and Dr Sundeep Oberoi, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana ordered rejecting Centre’s plea of setting up its own committee to probe snooping charges.
The order came following a batch of petitions seeking an independent court-monitored probe into the allegations.
The top court noted that renowned experts have been chosen for the particular committee.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana said the court is rejecting the request made by Union of India to allow it to set up the committee to probe the snooping allegations.
The Centre had argued that disclosing the details on the use of Pegasus spyware involves national security issues, as it refused to divulge any details.
The top court, in its judgment, said mere raising national security by state would not stop it from taking up the issue, and emphasized that national security can’t be a bug bear and refused to accept the omnibus denial by the Centre.
The bench noted that the Centre filed a limited affidavit, which didn’t make anything clear despite it repeatedly saying that the court is not concerned with issues of national security.
Pointing out that some of the petitioners are direct victims of Pegasus spyware, the apex court said, “It is incumbent upon the Centre to seriously consider the use of such a technology”.
The bench emphasized, “We live in the era of information. We must recognise that while technology is important, it is important to safeguard the right to privacy.” It further added, “not only journalists, etc., but privacy is important for all citizens.”
Quoting George Orwell, the bench headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana said, “If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”
The bench noted that Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that many petitions were self-service, but it cannot accept such omnibus contention.
“Centre should have justified its stand here and not render the court a mute spectator,” noted the bench also comprising justice Surya Kant and Hima Kohli.
The petitioners’ advocate have repeatedly told the top court that the Centre has evaded the fundamental question : if the central government or any of its agencies have ever used the Pegasus spyware and urged the court to direct the government to come clean on it.
There are many pleas filed before the top court by senior journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar, Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas of CPI (M) and advocate ML Sharma, former Union minister Yashwant Sinha, RSS ideologue KN Govindacharya, seeking inquiry headed by a sitting or retired judge of the top court to investigate the alleged snooping.
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 plea 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 (2017).
In July, names of over 40 Indian journalists appeared on the leaked list of potential targets for surveillance by an unidentified agency using Pegasus spyware, according to a report published in The Wire.
The matter will be taken up after 8 weeks.
(With agency inputs)