Advocate ML Sharma files Plea in Supreme Court seeking probe into Pegasus controversy

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Advocate ML Sharma has moved Supreme Court seeking probe into the alleged use of spy software Peagsus by government(s) to snoop into the phones of politicians, activists and journalists.

The plea seeks court-monitored probe by Special Investigation Team into the reports of alleged snooping using Israeli spyware Pegasus.

Advocate Sharma mentioned in his plea stated that, “the Pegasus scandal is a matter of grave concern and a serious attack upon Indian democracy, judiciary and country security. The widespread and unaccountable use of surveillance is morally disfiguring.”

He further added, “Privacy is not about the wish to hide, as is often asserted. It is about having a space of one’s own where our thoughts and being are not the instrument of someone else’s purposes.”

“Pegasus is not just a surveillance tool. It is a cyber-weapon being unleashed on the Indian polity. Even if authorised (which is doubtful), the use of Pegasus poses a national security risk.” – stated plea

The present petition is being filed for the constitutional question of law as stated below -

  1. Whether constitution allow prime minister and his minister to snoop citizen of India for their vested political interest?  
  2. Whether buying of Pegasus software without approval contra to the Art. 266(3), 267(2) and 283(2) does not attract S.408 & 409, 120-B of IPC?
  3. Whether snooping of common citizen of India, opposition leaders, judges of the judiciary and others do not attract an offence S.3 of the Official Secret Act (O.S. Act) of 1923 as well as u/s 65, 66 & 72 of the Information 4 technology act 2000 couple with Violation of Art 21?

In his plea, Advocate Sharma lays down various reasons for filing the present petition, few of them are stated below:

  1. Pegasus is a spyware developed by the Israeli cyberarms firm NSO Group that can be covertly installed on mobile phones (and other devices) running most versions of iOS and Android.
  1. Its Pegasus software infects iPhones and Android devices to enable operators to extract messages, photos and emails, record calls and secretly activate microphones and cameras.
  2. In press interview NSO denies any wrongdoing. It says the software is intended for use against criminals and terrorists and is made available only to military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies from countries with good human rights records.
  3. There are on a list of 50,000 phone numbers of people believed to be targeted by clients of the company, NSO Group, since 2016, that was leaked to major news outlets
  1. Pegasus was discovered in August 2018 after a failed attempt at installing it on an iPhone belonging to a human rights activis led to an investigation revealing details about the spyware, its abilities, and the security vulnerabilities it exploited.
  2. Israel-based “Cyber Warfare” vendor NSO Group produces and sells a mobile phone spyware suite called Pegasus. To monitor a target, a government operator of Pegasus must convince the target to click on a specially crafted exploit link, which, when clicked, delivers a chain of zero-day exploits to penetrate security features on the phone and installs Pegasus without the user’s knowledge or permission.
  3. Pegasus exploit links and C&C servers use HTTPS, which requires operators to register and maintain domain names. Domain names for exploit links sometimes impersonate mobile providers, online services, banks, and government services, which may make the links appear to be benign at first glance.
  4. 19.07.2021 NDTV reported that Phone numbers of Indian ministers, opposition leaders and journalists have been found on a database of targets for hacking that used Israeli spyware 'Pegasus' - only available to governments.
  5. Phone numbers of Indian ministers, opposition leaders, ex-election commissioners and journalists were allegedly found on a database of NSO hacking targets by Project Pegasus in 2021.