The Supreme Court will hear petitions seeking a special investigation into the Pegasus scandal, involving allegations that opposition politicians, journalists and others were targets of the Israeli spyware, on Thursday August 5.
A two-member Bench, headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana, will hear the petitions. Justice Surya Kant will be the second judge.
Senior journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar, CPI-M MP John Brittas and advocate ML Sharma have petitioned the top court to direct the government to disclose whether it obtained a licence for the spyware or used it — directly or indirectly — to conduct surveillance of any kind. The petitioners also want a sitting or former SC judge to investigate the matter.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Ram and Kumar, had said that the civil liberties of citizens, opposition politicians, journalists and court staff were at stake as they were put under surveillance. He added that Pegasus scandal was making waves in India and all over the world.
In their plea, Ram and Kumar said that such “targeted surveillance” using a “military-grade spyware” is “grossly disproportionate invasion of the right to privacy”.“The Pegasus hack is a direct attack on communicational, intellectual and informational privacy, and critically endangers the meaningful exercise of privacy in these contexts.”
Sharma’s plea cited media reports on the controversy and said: “The Pegasus scandal is a matter of grave concern and a serious attack on Indian democracy, judiciary and country’s security.”
Brittas said the Pegasus spyware allegations give rise to two inferences — that it was done by the Indian government or by a foreign agency. “If it is done by the Indian government, it is done in an unauthorised manner. The spending of sovereign amount for personal and political interests of the ruling party cannot be permitted. If snooping is done by some foreign agency, it is an act of external aggression, which also needs to be dealt in a serious manner.”
The Pegasus Project is an international investigative journalism initiative that revealed governments’ espionage on journalists, opposition leaders, activists, businesspeople and other others using the Israeli company NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. In 2020, a target list of 50,000 phone numbers leaked to Forbidden Stories and an analysis revealed the list contained the numbers of leading opposition politicians, human rights activists, journalists and lawyers.
More than half of these phones that were inspected by Amnesty International revealed forensic evidence of the Pegasus spyware.