Pegasus row National

Pegasus row | Govt. has drawn a line between denial, sub judice

Indian Youth Congress (IYC ) members stage a protest on Pegasus issue in New Delhi, on January 29, 2022.

Indian Youth Congress (IYC ) members stage a protest on Pegasus issue in New Delhi, on January 29, 2022.

The Centre has walked a fine line in the Supreme Court on the Pegasus issue. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, in a six-page affidavit in August last year, makes do with a sweeping denial on the snooping allegations . But the lone affidavit in the case does not address the basic issue whether India had bought Pegasus in the first place.

“I hereby unequivocally deny any and all of the allegations made against the Respondents in the captioned petition and other connected petitions. A bare perusal makes it clear that the same are based on conjectures and surmises or on other unsubstantiated media reports or incomplete or uncorroborated material,” the Ministry affidavit had swept aside the Pegasus allegations.

Also read: Explained | The operations of the Pegasus spyware

Now, months later, the government has countered Opposition demands for a debate on the Pegasus issue during the Budget session by saying the case is sub judice . The Pegasus row has returned to the spotlight following a report in The New York Times that India bought the software as part of a $2 billion deal with Israel in 2017. In the court, the government had refused to file a “detailed affidavit”. It had raised the spectre of national security. In fact, the government had wanted to form its own “committee of experts” to “go into all aspects of the issue”.

But the court formed the Justice R.V. Raveendran Committee on October 27, 2021 to examine the Pegasus allegations, saying “national security cannot be the bugbear that the judiciary shies away from by virtue of its mere mentioning”.

One of the primary tasks set out for the committee was to find out whether “any Pegasus suite of spyware was acquired by the Union of India, or any State government, or any Central or State agency for use against the citizens of India?”

The committee was asked to submit a report “expeditiously”. On October 27, the court had listed the case after eight weeks. However, it has not come up for hearing yet. The committee has recently issued a public notice inviting citizens to come forward if they suspect that their mobile phones or instruments were infected with the Israeli military grade malware.

In the court, the government had rubbished the claims of snooping as “sensationalism”. It had referred to the Information Technology Minister’s statement in the Parliament of how the NSO Group, which owns the technology, had said that “most of its clients are Western countries”.

Despite its objections, the Centre had agreed that its agencies cannot “resort to surveillance/collection of data relating to its citizens where national security and national interest are not involved”.

The petitioners, including senior journalists N. Ram and Sashi Kumar, had approached the Supreme Court after a consortium of nearly 17 organisations across the world, including an Indian one, released the results of a long investigative effort indicating the alleged use of the Pegasus on several private individuals.

This investigative effort was based on a list of some 50,000 leaked numbers which were allegedly under surveillance by clients of the NSO Group. Initially, it was discovered that nearly 300 of these numbers belonged to Indians, including senior journalists, doctors, political persons and even court staff.

The October 27 order of the Supreme Court underscored the “Orwellian concern” about the alleged misuse of surveillance technology.

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Printable version | Jun 22, 2022 11:13:29 pm |