Top court-appointed panel seeks info from state DGPs on Pegasus purchase
In a letter, the Supreme Court-constituted technical committee, on April 18, directed police chiefs of all states to specify the date of the procurement, and the type and quantity of licences if the states had procured the spyware.
The technical committee constituted by Supreme Court in the Pegasus spyware case has asked all state Director Generals of Police (DGPs) to inform it whether they have procured the software from Israel’s NSO Group. It is not known whether the committee sought similar information from the union home ministry or any other central ministry .
In a letter to DGPs of all states including Odisha on April 18, the technical committee asked them to specify the date of the procurement, and the type and quantity of licences if the states had procured the spyware.
“Did any state, state police, state intelligence or agency in the state/union territory of the government having access to Pegasus spyware use this on any citizen of India? If so, whether any permission/s or sanction/s for such use was obtained and if so from whom,” the secretary general of the Supreme Court has asked all the DGPs quoting the questions of the technical committee.
The Supreme Court in October last year appointed an independent expert technical committee overseen by a former SC judge, Justice R.V. Raveendran, to examine allegations that the government used Israeli spyware Pegasus to snoop on the phones of Indian ministers, politicians, activists, businessmen and journalists. The members of the technical committee are Dr. Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, Dr. Prabaharan P. and Dr. Ashwin Anil Gumaste.
The order came in response to petitions filed from several quarters, including by veteran journalists N. Ram and Sashi Kumar, the Editors Guild and individuals who were the victims of the alleged snooping.
The technical committee is inquiring whether the Pegasus suite of spyware was used on phones or other devices of the citizens of India to access stored data, eavesdrop on conversations, intercept information and/or for any other purposes.
It is also seeking details of the victims and/or persons affected by such spyware attack, and steps/actions that have been taken by the Centre after reports were published in 2019 about hacking of WhatsApp accounts of Indians using the Pegasus suite of spyware, and if any domestic entity/person used the spyware on any Indian citizens.
Last month, the same panel sought comments on 11 questions from the public which included queries on whether the existing boundaries of state surveillance of citizens’ personal or private communications, for national security, maintaining public order and so on, are well defined and understood.
Also Read | Pegasus panel seeks comments from public
The Andhra Pradesh Assembly last month passed a resolution to set up a committee to find out if the Chandrababu Naidu government bought and used Pegasus on its political opponents. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee earlier said that her government rejected an offer to buy Pegasus 4-5 years ago.
The Pegasus row erupted in July 2021 after an international consortium of media outlets and investigative journalists reported that the phones of Indian ministers, politicians, activists, businessmen and journalists were among the 50,000 that were potentially targeted by Pegasus, Israeli company NSO Group’s phone hacking software.
According to this consortium, Pegasus can switch on a target’s phone camera and microphone, as well as access data on the device, effectively turning the phone into a pocket spy.
Responding to a bunch of petitions filed by lawyers, politicians, journalists and civil rights activists, the Union ministry of electronics and information technology filed a three-page affidavit on August 16 that refused to confirm or deny whether it used Pegasus spyware for surveillance of Indians. The Centre instead offered to set up an expert committee to look into the controversy and “dispel any wrong narrative spread by certain vested interests”.
Eventually, it was the apex court that set up a panel.