Published: 28th October 2021
What The FAQ: How and why was an independent probe into the Pegasus case ordered by the Supreme Court?
Here's what the Supreme Court has ordered in the latest development with regards to the Pegasus case which brought into question the right to privacy and other sensitive topics
The jury is out on Pegasus! Well, at least it's getting there.
In 2020, after it was found that the Government of India was snooping on its citizens using the spyware Pegasus, it naturally created an uproar. Petitions were filed, but not to much avail. Now, the Supreme Court has decreed a “thorough inquiry” in way of an independent probe into these allegations and by doing so, has decided to uphold many tenants of the Constitution.
Here's what the Supreme Court's order, which was out a few hours ago, was all about.
Hold up. What was the row about Pegasus again?
The Pegasus Project, the investigation carried out by an international media consortium, found out that 50,000 phone numbers were the target of spyware developed by Israeli software company NSO Group, which sells only to governments. This naturally embroiled many around the world. The list also had 300 verified phone numbers of politicians from the opposition parties, journalists, activists and a sitting judge from India.
What has been happening all this while?
Petitions were filed and the government, as directed, filed a brief affidavit denying the allegations. It also stated that the matter involved national security hence, it couldn't make the details public via a public affidavit. It even suggested it would disclose details to a committee that it could set up to examine the issue.
So, what was the Supreme Court's verdict which was out yesterday then?
Based on 12 petitions seeking an independent probe, the court ordered a three-member technical committee, which will be constituted by the court itself, to look into the matter. This committee will be supervised by retired Supreme Court Justice R V Raveendran, who will also be assisted by two experts. The report needs to be submitted to the Supreme Court 'expeditiously' and the matter will be heard again in eight weeks. The committee itself is called the Justice Raveendran Committee. This was decreed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli.
What exactly will the committee be looking into?
The court itself has set a few terms of references. This includes confirming that the spyware was used on citizens and details of those who were affected also if the government, or any other party, procured the spyware to use it specifically on its citizens. Plus, what laws could have actually allowed such use. Incidentally, these are the same questions that the government did not answer before the court.
What did it specifically say about the right to privacy?
The court said that the right to privacy is 'directly infringed' when such surveillance is carried out, whether by the government or an external agency. It noted that limitations exist but also stated that “any restrictions imposed must necessarily pass constitutional scrutiny”.
Additionally, here are two statements made by the court that stood out the most:
- "this does not mean that the State gets a free pass every time the spectre of ‘national security’ is raised...The mere invocation of national security by the State does not render the Court a mute spectator”
- "Such a course of action taken by the… Union of India, especially in proceedings of the present nature which touches upon the fundamental rights of the citizens of the country, cannot be accepted”