Plea By The Hindu’s N Ram Seeking Probe Into Pegasus Controversy: Supreme Court Expected To Hear Next Week
The Supreme Court on Friday said that it will take up the plea by senior journalists N. Ram and Sashi Kumar seeking an independent probe headed by a former or sitting Apex court judge into the military-grade Israeli spyware Pegasus next week.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal while mentioning and requesting the same to be listed before the division bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justice Surya Kant said,
“Pegasus has huge ramifications qua civil liberties. Opposition leaders, journalists, and members of the judiciary are being snooped. This is an urgent matter making waves not just in India but internationally.”
The petitioners in their plea have also sought a full disclosure from the government on whether it had authorised the snooping, which seems to be an attempt to muzzle free speech and to chill dissent. The government, the petition said, had still not given a straight answer to whether the illegal hack was done with its blessings.
The plea averred that, “Such mass surveillance using a military-grade spyware abridges several fundamental rights and appears to represent an attempt to infiltrate, attack and destabilise independent institutions that act as critical pillars of our democratic set-up.”
It was also stated in the plea that, the Pegasus software is a weapons grade spyware/surveillance tool manufactured by an Israeli cyber-arms firm NSO Group Technologies Limited (“NSO Group”). It is extremely advanced and is capable of infecting a mobile phone/ device without any interaction with the owner (also known as a zero-click attack).
“It can conduct extremely intrusive surveillance including inter alia tracking and recording calls, reading text and Whatsapp messages, collecting passwords, reading emails, accessing photos and videos, activating camera and microphone and enabling them to record events, and harvesting information from apps. It can be installed as simply as by placing a call on the targeted device, even if the call is not picked up,” stated the plea.
The spying had caused serious dents on the rights to free speech and privacy. It had no legal basis. In fact, the legal regime for surveillance under Section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act had been completely bypassed. Civilians had become targets.
The petitioners pointed out that, The NSO Group D claims to sell its products including Pegasus only to “vetted governments” to fight “crime and terror”
A forensic analysis of several mobile phones belonging to persons targeted for surveillance by the Security Lab of Amnesty International have confirmed Pegasus-induced security breaches, noted the plea.
Accordingly the petitioners mentioned that these circumstances gave rise to several serious questions as stated below:
a. Has targeted surveillance been conducted on journalist’s doctors, lawyers, opposition politicians, ministers, constitutional functionaries and civil society activists by illegally hacking into their phones using the Pegasus spyware?
b. What are the implications of such a hack? Do they represent an attempt by agencies and organisations to muzzle and chill the exercise of free speech and expression of dissent in India?
“It is also concerning to note that the Respondents have not categorically ruled out obtaining Pegasus licenses to conduct surveillance in their response, and have taken no steps to ensure a credible and independent investigation into these extremely serious allegations,” stated the plea.
It is pertinent to mention that this is the third plea in line seeking probe in the Pegasus controversy. Prior to this Advocate ML Sharma and CPI(M) Leader John Brittas had also moved the Supreme Court seeking probe into the spying allegations.
Case Title: N Ram and Anr v Union of India & Ors