The Centre told the Supreme Court on Monday that there is “nothing to hide” in the Pegasus surveillance allegations and it will form a committee to examine all aspects of the issue.
The government told a bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana that the issue was “highly technical” and expertise was needed to examine the aspects.
“There is nothing to hide. It needs examination by committee of experts. This is a highly technical issue. We will appoint eminent neutral experts from the field,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the bench, which also comprised Justices Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose.
Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar, who have filed a plea seeking a probe into the allegations, said the affidavit filed by the Centre does not say whether the government or its agencies had used the military-grade spyware to surveil anyone.
“We do not want the government, which might have used Pegasus or its agency might have used it, to set up a committee on its own,” Sibal said during the hearing which is going on.
Earlier in the day, the Centre filed an affidavit and said that a batch of petitions seeking an independent investigation into the allegations were based on “conjectures and surmises” or on other unsubstantiated media reports.
The government said its position in the matter has already been clarified in Parliament by IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.
“A bare perusal of the captioned petition and other connected petitions makes it clear that the same are based on conjectures and surmises or on other unsubstantiated media reports or incomplete or uncorroborated material,” the affidavit said.
With a view to dispel any wrong narrative spread by certain vested interests and with an object of examining the issues raised, it said, the government will constitute a committee of experts.
On August 10, the court had taken exception to “parallel proceedings and debates” on social media on the snooping row by some petitioners and said that there must be some discipline and they must have “some faith in the system”.
The court is hearing a batch of pleas, including one filed by the Editors Guild of India, seeking an independent probe into the case.
They are related to reports of alleged snooping by government agencies on citizens, politicians and journalists by using Israeli firm NSO’s spyware Pegasus.
An international media consortium has reported that more than 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus spyware.
Earlier, during the hearing, the court had said that allegations of Pegasus-related snooping are “serious in nature” if the reports are correct.
It had also asked the petitioners whether they had made any efforts to file a criminal complaint on the issue.