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Pegasus: Illegal surveillance is serious, says SC, gives Centre time to respond

An international media consortium has reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus spyware.

Published: 05th August 2021 12:14 PM  |   Last Updated: 06th August 2021 07:13 AM   |  A+A-

Supreme Court

Supreme Court (Photo | EPS)

By Express News Service

NEW DELHI:  Terming the allegations of Pegasus snoopgate as serious if media reports are true, the Supreme Court on Thursday asked the petitioners to let the Centre respond before they proceed further. The court while slating the matter for further hearing on August 10 asked the petitioners to serve copies of their petitions to the Centre.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana said, “The matter has got complicated with too many petitions. Some have challenged the vires of the Information Technology law also. Let someone appear on behalf of the Centre and then we will see.” It was hearing a batch of nine petitions demanding an independent inquiry into snooping.

During the hearing, the bench kept on asking lawyers whether their clients had availed of any legal remedy such as registration of an FIR on learning their phones were hacked. The court said all writ petitions, except that  filed by the Editor’s Guild of India, were based on newspaper reports. No other relevant document was annexed. “The petitioners are highly resourceful. They have international access. They should have done more focussed effort or hard work to bring more material on record,” the bench observed.

Wondering why the petitioners did not raise the matter two years ago when Pegasus snooping was first outed, it said, “We are not finding fault with the delayed approach. But we want to know if any serious effort was made then on the issue.”

At this, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for N Ram responded, “The extent of surveillance was not known to us. Today morning we found out that the numbers of even registrars of this court are on the snooping list. Their phones were accessed. Some members of the judiciary have also been named.” 
Sibal took the judges through a California court order to highlight the rogue technology and the fact that it can be bought by governments alone.

“This (technology) infiltrates into our lives without our knowing.... It hears, surveys every minute of our movement. It is an assault on privacy, human dignity, and the values of our republic, as it infiltrates into the backbone of the internet system,” Sibal said citing a statement by the head of NSO Group, which owns Pegasus. 

No provision to file FIR on snoopgate, says counsel

Appear ing for activist Jagdeep Chhokar, senior advocate Shyam Divan said the case is much more than an individual’s interest, as it concerns the privacy of all citizens. Divan informed the court that the petitions were filed only after the two-year-old investigation into a list that was supposedly leaked by a whistleblower revealed the snooping instances.

Senior advocate Arvind Datar appearing for two journalists said there was no provision under law that allowed them to take legal recourse for infringement of their privacy of such a nature. He added the current Information Technology Act permits criminal action in case there is harm to bodily privacy. Datar was responding to question on whether the individuals whose phones were hacked had sought to file any FIR.

The petitioners in the case are Rajya Sabha member John Brittas, senior journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar, Editors Guild of India, journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, civil rights activists Jagdeep S Chhokar and Narendra Mishra, and advocate M L Sharma.

Four other journalists, Rupesh Kumar Singh, Ipshita Shatakshi, S N M Abdi and Prem Shankar Jha, whose names figure on the Pegasus list have also approached the court. Besides, former Union minister Yashwant Sinha approached the SC seeking a court monitored probe into it.

Why no FIRs, asks bench
Why petitioners on snoop list did not file FIRs; and why were petitions being filed now as Pegasus was first outed in 2019, were among the SC queries



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