Pegasus snoopgate: SC appoints panel of experts to investigate allegations


Stressing that the state’s power to snoop around in the “sacred private space” of individuals cannot be absolute, the Supreme Court on Tuesday appointed a technical committee of experts overseen by a former Supreme Court justice, Judge RV Raveendran, to examine allegations that the Center used Israeli software, Pegasus, to spy on citizens.

A three-judge panel led by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana explained that it had decided to decline the Centre’s offer to appoint a panel of experts to investigate the allegations because “such action would violate the established judicial principle against bias, that is, “justice must not only be done, but also be seen to be done”. “

Judge Raveendran would be assisted by Alok Joshi, former head of IPS (lot 1976) and Dr Sundeep Oberoi, chairman of the subcommittee (International Organization for Standardization / International Electrotechnical Commission / Joint Technical Committee). The three members of the technical committee are Dr Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, Professor (Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics) and Dean, National Forensic Sciences University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat; Dr Prabaharan P., professor (engineering school), Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Amritapuri, Kerala; and Dr Ashwin Anil Gumaste, Institute Associate Professor (Computer Science and Engineering), Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Maharashtra.

The court said it was “extremely difficult” to shortlist the members. Many had “politely declined” while others cited personal reasons. The bench said he formed the committee with the best of intentions to ensure “absolute transparency and efficiency.”

The court said it consciously avoided “political thickets” but could not curl up when the allegations involved a “serious” threat to the privacy and freedom of expression of all citizens and raised the possibility of ‘government involvement, or even a foreign power, behind the surveillance. . The court said the petitions before it, including those of veteran journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar, the Editors’ Guild in India and alleged spy victims, raised “Orwellian concerns” about a ubiquitous technology like Pegasus.

“I cannot remain silent”

The court said India cannot remain silent on Pegasus’ claims as other countries around the world have taken them seriously. The court asked the committee to submit its report “promptly”. He posted the next hearing after eight weeks.

He said the nagging fear of being spied on crippled freedom and had a “chilling effect”. Ordinary citizens, and not just activists and journalists, are beginning to drift towards self-censorship. “Members of a civilized democratic society have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Privacy is not the singular concern of journalists or social activists. Every Indian citizen must be protected from privacy breaches. It is this expectation that allows us to exercise our choices, our freedoms and our freedom. There is no denying that surveillance and knowing that one is under threat of being spied on can affect how an individual decides to exercise their rights, ”said the Chamber, also composed of Judges Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, in the order.

The court noted that the Indian Union did not specifically deny the allegations. The government, although the court gave it several opportunities, chose to respond with an “omnibus and vague refusal” in a “limited affidavit”. The government had refused to take a clear stand in court, citing national security concerns, despite the fact that Pegasus’ allegations first surfaced two years ago.

“The mere invocation of national security by the state does not make the court a silent spectator,” Chief Justice Ramana told the bench. The state does not get “a pass every time the specter of national security is raised … National security cannot be the bogeyman that justice shies away from, simply because of its evocation.”

The court, however, refused a plea from the applicants for the Cabinet Secretary to submit an affidavit to the court, responding to Pegasus’ allegations.

The court returned to William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, the power of the citizen’s privacy rights over the state. “The poorest man can, in his cottage, challenge all the forces of the Crown. It can be fragile, its roof can shake, the wind can blow on it, the storm can come in, the rain can come in, but the King of England cannot enter! quoted the Supreme Court.

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