The Union government has refused to file a detailed affidavit in the Supreme Court in the Pegasus spyware scandal citing national security, but has asserted that it has nothing to hide. The government’s stand was in response to multiple pleas seeking a formal probe in the Pegasus row. The Supreme Court has now reserved its interim order in the case and asked the Centre to let it know within 2-3 days if it changes its stance on the issue.
Representing the government, solicitor general Tushar Mehta said, “Existence of whether a particular software was used, or not, cannot become part of an affidavit or subject of public discourse. Target groups, terror groups should not know what software is being used.”
What the SC said
The apex court reminded the solicitor general that while it understood and appreciated the ‘national security’ argument, the government was only asked to respond to claims of hacking of individuals’ phones.
Justice Surya Kant said, “Last time also national security arose and we clarified nobody… is going to intervene in a way that affects national security. We asked you there are claims of individual phones being hacked… so file your affidavit on whether it was authorised.”
“We are only concerned with issues of phones of individuals (being) hacked. Which agency has powers and whether it authorised or not… There are individuals saying their right to privacy has been violated,” he added.
Centre proposes committee
Following the Supreme Court’s query, the solicitor general said, “We will set up a committee of domain experts. The petitioners who say their numbers were put under interception can be considered by the committee. The committee report will be placed before your lordships.”
The court pointed out that “appointing a committee is not an issue”.
“… purpose of the affidavit was supposed to be that we know where you stand. As per your own IT Minister’s statement in Parliament – that without subjecting the phone to technical analysis – it is hard to assess whether the phone was hacked or not,” the court said.
“We have given opportunities (the government has twice before sought time to file this affidavit)… But they (the government) don’t want to file,” it observed.
Pegasus is a spyware developed by NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm, that helps spies hack into phones. In 2019, when WhatsApp sued the firm in a US court, the matter came to light. In July 2021, Amnesty International, along with 13 media outlets across the globe released a report on how the spyware was used to snoop hundreds of individuals, including Indians. While the NSO claims its spyware is sold only to governments, none of the nations have come forward to accept the claims.
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