The Supreme Court on Wednesday wants the Justice R.V. Raveendran expert committee to not just enquire into recent allegations of government using Pegasus to snoop, but uncover the trail to reports of the Israeli spyware being used to hack social media accounts of private citizens in 2019.
A Bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana asked the former apex court judge and his panel to dig up the steps taken by the government “after reports were published in the year 2019 about hacking of WhatsApp accounts of Indian citizens, using the Pegasus suite of spyware”.
The court also wants the committee to use its expertise to test the existing surveillance laws and procedures to see how much they value and protect citizens’ privacy.
The court said the committee should come up with recommendations to prevent State and non-State players from invading the fundamental right of privacy of citizens through illegal surveillance mounted on them.
In fact, the court has asked the Justice Raveendran panel in its 46-page order to suggest a “mechanism” for citizens to raise grievances on “suspicion of illegal surveillance of their devices”.
To top it all, the apex court has pushed for suggestions from the committee for the setting up of a “well-equipped independent premier agency to investigate cyber security vulnerabilities”.
The Supreme Court’s seven-point “terms of reference” for the expert committee comes across as far-reaching. It not only seems to deal with the recent trigger for the Pegasus controversy but dives deep into the first public signs of the alleged use of the military grade spyware years ago.
The job cut out for the committee in the list of seven is to “enquire, investigate and determine” whether the “Pegasus suite of spyware was used on phones or other devices of the citizens of India to access stored data, eavesdrop on conversations, intercept information and/or for any other purposes”. The committee also has to get the “details of the victims and/or persons affected by such a spyware attack”.
The other questions for the committee include whether Pegasus was used by the Centre or State or any of their agencies against their own citizens, and if used, was it authorised and under what law or procedure.
Editorial | A credible probe
The court has asked the Justice Raveendran panel to come up with suggestions for enhancing and improving the cyber security of the nation and its assets.
Noting that there should not be any delay in protecting citizens from malicious spyware attacks, the court even asked the committee to suggest an ad hoc arrangement that could be passed by the Supreme Court as an interim measure until the Parliament came up with a law.