Pegasus case | Supreme Court may form panel to look into snooping charges

Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana on Thursday indicated the Supreme Court’s intention to form a committee to examine allegations that the government used Israeli-based Pegasus software to spy on citizens.

The revelation came when the Chief Justice informed senior advocate C.U. Singh, who represented one of the petitioners in the Pegasus case, that the court wanted to pass orders in the case this week but could not because some of the members it had shortlisted for the committee were unavailable due to personal reasons.

Chief Justice Ramana said the court would now pass orders in the Pegasus case sometime next week.

Explained | Pegasus and the laws on surveillance in India

“We wanted to pass the order this week, but some of the members we thought of in the committee said they would be not be able to for personal reasons... We will pass the order next week sometime,” Chief Justice Ramana addressed Mr. Singh.

The CJI asked Mr. Singh to inform the other lawyers in the case. While reserving the case for interim order on September 13, the court had mentioned it would be pronounced in the next two or three days.

The court had decided to go ahead with an interim order after the government expressed reservations about filing a “detailed” affidavit responding to the allegations. The Centre had said it would be public and compromise national security.

The petitioners had asked for an affidavit from the Cabinet Secretary or for the court to form a committee led by a sitting judge to probe the snooping controversy.

A Bench of Chief Justice Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli made it clear on September 13 that there would be no more “beating around the bush” in the issue.

The CJI had said the court had given the government a fair opportunity to file a detailed affidavit in order to get a clear idea of its stand in the Pegasus case.

“We thought the government would file a counter-affidavit… now we will pass our interim orders,” Chief Justice Ramana had remarked.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for senior journalists N. Ram and Sashi Kumar, had found the government’s refusal to file a detailed affidavit “unbelievable”.

Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta for the government had reasoned that a public discourse on whether a particular software was used or not would alert terrorists. He had urged the court to allow the government to form a committee of “domain experts” who would look into the allegations of snooping orchestrated against citizens, including journalists, activists, Ministers, parliamentarians and others.

The Solicitor-General had assured the court that the committee members would have “no relationship” with the government and would place their report before the Supreme Court.

“The Committee report will have to withstand the Supreme Court’s judicial scrutiny… I am not averse to an enquiry. The government takes individuals’ plea of violation of their privacy seriously. It has to be gone into, it must be gone into… It is the feeling of the government that such an issue cannot be placed on affidavit. It has to be gone through by a committee. It concerns national security,” Mr. Mehta had submitted.

He had said the government could not afford to “sensationalise” such an “important” issue. He objected to assertions by petitioners that the “government was denying protection to its own citizens” or was “assaulting democracy”.

Justice Kant had put matters in perspective by observing that while the court was equally concerned about national security, it could not turn a deaf ear to concerns about privacy raised by citizens.

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Printable version | Oct 23, 2021 4:02:29 PM |

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