The Centre must shed its ambiguity on Pegasus
The Centre is tying itself up in knots to evade the central question in this case — did the government of India procure Pegasus, and did it authorise its use?
The Centre has adopted an opaque approach to the Pegasus revelations. In Parliament, the new information technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw’s defence rested on the fact that there has been no illegal interception. Responding to a written question, the ministry of defence said it had not procured any such software — thus washing its hands of the affair, but this left open the question of whether other government departments and agencies had done so. Another ministry cried off a question claiming the matter was sub judice. And with the Centre avoiding a discussion on the issue as demanded by the Opposition, the entire monsoon session was disrupted.
In the Supreme Court, which is hearing a bunch of petitions on the matter, the Centre denied the allegations in the petitions, saying they were based on “conjectures, surmises, unsubstantiated media reports or incomplete or uncorroborated material”. It also offered to set up a committee of experts to go into all aspects of the issue.
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Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, on behalf of the Centre, then used the national security argument, pleading that any public disclosure on whether or not the software was used would harm the security of the State, enable terrorists to take preventive steps, and said that the government was willing to divulge details to a committee. The court has issued a notice to the Centre and will take up the matter in 10 days again.
The Centre is tying itself up in knots to evade the central question in this case — did the government of India procure Pegasus, and did it authorise its use? To suggest that disclosing this will help terrorists isn’t a smart argument, for they probably already operate based on the assumption that the Indian State has this technology. More importantly, the State owes an answer to citizens, who do not constitute a threat to it, about whether there has been an invasion of privacy, a fundamental right. The government must shed the ambiguity even if the answer is an uncomfortable one.