Pegasus panel gives report to Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is yet to set a next date of hearing for the case during whose proceedings the panel was formed under the supervision of retired Supreme Court judge justice RV Raveendran.
New Delhi: A three-member panel that was asked to probe whether Israeli spyware Pegasus was used to allegedly infiltrate the phones of several politicians, journalists, and activists in India, has submitted its report to the Supreme Court nearly a week ago, HT has learnt.
The contents of the report remain confidential. The Supreme Court is yet to set a next date of hearing for the case during whose proceedings the panel was formed under the supervision of retired Supreme Court judge justice RV Raveendran. The case may be listed on August 12 before a bench comprising chief justice of India NV Ramana and justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli. HT reached out to Raveendran for comments on Monday but did not immediately get a response.
The panel comprises of Dr Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, dean of the National Forensic Sciences University in Gandhinagar, Dr Prabaharan P, professor at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham in Kerala, and Dr Ashwin Anil Gumaste, an institute chair associate professor at IIT Bombay. The panel examined 29 devices by May for forensic analysis. “The matter is confidential and cannot be discussed as a particular procedure has to be followed,” a member of the panel said at the time.
Earlier, the Supreme Court had asked the panel to expedite its investigation into the Pegasus row with the first deadline set for May 20, and then extending time till June 20 for submission of the final report. The report was finally submitted around a week ago after multiple delays.
The Pegasus row erupted on July 18, 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. Four HT journalists were also named in the report.
According to the consortium, Pegasus can switch on a target’s phone camera and microphone, and access the data on the device.
Speaking in Parliament on July 19, 2021, Union minister Ashwini Vaishnaw countered reports suggesting that the India government used Pegasus to hack into the phones of journalists, activists, Opposition leaders, and ministers. The reports were nothing but an “attempt to malign Indian democracy and its well-established institutions”, he said.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta appeared for the Union government while senior counsel Kapil Sibal, Shyam Divan, CU Singh and Rakesh Dwivedi, among others, were appearing for the bunch of petitions filed by lawyers, politicians, journalists and civil rights activists. The government denied the allegations.
In October 2021 — while hearing the Pegasus case -- when the top court set up the inquiry panel, it held that the Union government cannot get “a free pass every time” by raising the spectre of “national security” when the issues concern the “potential chilling effect” on right to privacy and freedom of speech.
It appointed the three-member panel, under the supervision of justice R V Raveendran. The committee, and a technical subcommittee, is carrying out a digital forensics analysis of devices suspected to have been targeted by the military grade spyware.