The Supreme Court recently issued pre-admission notice to the Central government on petitions seeking an independent inquiry into the allegations that the government used Israeli based pegasus spyware to snoop on citizens. A three judge bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana, Justices Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose issued pre-admission notice to the GoI on petitions seeking an independent inquiry into the allegations that the government used Israeli-based Pegasus spyware to snoop on citizens. A bench comprising the Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose was hearing a batch of petitions seeking a court-monitored probe by a Special Investigation Team or a judicial probe into the reports of snooping of activists, journalists, politicians and constitutional authorities using spyware.
Justice Kant said there was no question of compromising national security. “We are not going to ask you to divulge anything that will harm the defence of the nation, We are extremely reluctant to say anything on that. But the question here is that there are some persons of eminence who have come here, saying there has been interception of their phones… That can be done, but with the permission of the competent authorit, What is the problem if that competent authority filed an affidavit before us? In the affidavit we don't want a single word on any aspect that relates to the security of the nation.All we are saying is that we are issuing simple notice… Let the competent authority say to what extent what information can be disclosed.”
The notice was issued after the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, backed government’s limited affidavit denying all of the allegations. Mr. Mehta said any revelation about any software allegedly used by government to counter terrorism would compromise national security. And the government can never compromise the national security.He made his arguments clear that government won’t divulge any name as such by saying that no government will say which software is used because if we divulge, advantage takers (enemies,terrorists) may take advantage. He clarified that the government was not refusing to reveal anything to anybody at all. He further made it clear that a committee can be set up and that will get the reports regarding the software ,which will further submit its report to the court. Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said that the issue involved aspects of national security and was not simple enough to be addressed through affidavits. He asked if the petitioners will withdraw the petitions if the Government denies using Pegasus.
Mr. Sibal on behalf of petitioners further rebutted the affidavit on five points. Firstly, he said it was filed by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and not the Ministry of Home Affairs which authorised surveillance under the law. Secondly, the affidavit did not talk about anything on whether the spyware was used or not. Thirdly, he stated that if the government did not get the time to study the petitions and reply to them, then they should get some extra time from court. Fourthly, he countered that the affidavit did not say anything on whether the facts and contentions in the petitions were right or wrong. Finally, and most importantly, we do not want a government who might have used Pegasus to form a committee of experts to inquire into the issue. As far as I am concerned, the issue is simple. If the government says they have used the Pegasus, there is no need for a committee. If the government says they have not used the Pegasus, then too, there is no need for a committee.
The petitioner’s side led by Mr. Sibal repeatedly highlighted that the Union Government has evaded answering the question if it or any of its agencies have ever used the Pegasus spyware. Mr.Sibal on behalf of petitioners side urged the Court to direct the Union to come clean on this spyware issue.