Two senior journalists have filed a petition in Supreme Court seeking an independent investigation into the Pegasus scandal.
N. Ram and Sashi Kumar’s petition, likely to come up for hearing in the next few days, seeks to investigate if the illegal hacking of phones using the Israeli spyware Pegasus represented an attempt by government agencies and organisations to muzzle and chill the exercise of free speech and expression in India.
It also seeks a direction to the Centre to disclose if the government or any of its agencies obtained a licence for the spyware and used it, either directly or indirectly, to conduct surveillance in any manner.
A global investigation led by Amnesty International and several leading media publications, including The Wire, has revealed that more than 142 people in India were identified as potential targets for surveillance using Israeli firm NSO’s Pegasus spyware.
Forensic analysis of several mobile phones belonging to people targeted for surveillance has confirmed Pegasus-induced security breaches.
Targeted surveillance using military-grade spyware is an unacceptable violation of the right to privacy, which has been held to be a fundamental right under Articles 14 (equality before the law), 19 (freedom of speech and expression) and 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) by the Supreme Court, the petition says.
It says the targeted hacking of phones belonging to journalists, doctors, lawyers, civil society activists, government ministers and opposition politicians compromises the effective exercise of the fundamental right to free speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
Illegal surveillance also constitutes a criminal offence punishable under Section 66 (computer-related offences), 66B (punishment for dishonestly receiving stolen computer resource or communication device), 66E (punishment for violation of privacy) and 66F (punishment for cyberterrorism) of the IT Act, punishable with imprisonment and/or fine, the petition says.
The attack prima facie constitutes an act of cyber-terrorism that has several grave political and security ramifications, especially considering that the devices of government ministers, senior political figures and constitutional functionaries may contain sensitive information, it adds.
Earlier, a petition was filed by a lawyer before the apex court seeking a court-monitored probe by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the snooping allegations.