Supreme Court verdict today on setting up panel to probe Pegasus row

A bench, headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, is expected to name the members of the expert committee and also lay down terms of reference regarding aspects to be gone into by the panel.
The Supreme Court, on September 13, reserved its order in the case 
The Supreme Court, on September 13, reserved its order in the case 
Updated on Oct 27, 2021 01:04 AM IST
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ByHT Correspondent, New Delhi

The Supreme Court will on Wednesday deliver its detailed order on setting up an expert committee to inquire into the alleged use of Israeli spyware Pegasus for surveillance of Indian citizens.

A bench, headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana, is expected to name the members of the expert committee and also lay down terms of reference regarding aspects to be gone into by the panel. The other members of the bench are justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli.

On September 23, the CJI announced that the SC would set up a committee on the Pegasus row while pointing out that its constitution was taking time because some experts the bench had contacted expressed personal difficulties in being part of the panel. The CJI’s statement suggested that the court had virtually rejected the Centre’s plea to let it set up an “independent committee” to look into the controversy.

The court, on September 13, reserved its order in the case after the Union government said that it could not make public whether its agencies used the Israeli spyware as such disclosure would be against national interest.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, said at the time that the Centre was open to having a committee of independent domain experts who could go into all aspects of the controversy and submit its report while adding that the use of a particular software “cannot be made a part of the public discourse in the larger national interest and in the interest of the security of the nation”.

The SG requested the bench to allow the government to set up an expert committee. But most of the lawyers for the petitioners, including senior counsel Kapil Sibal, Shyam Divan, Rakesh Dwivedi, Dinesh Dwivedi, Colin Gonsalves and Meenakshi Arora, urged the court to reject the government’s proposal, contending that the “wrongdoer” could not be allowed to have the liberty of choosing the forum of inquiry. The lawyers submitted that the court should set up a panel consisting of members of its choice.

While reserving its order on September 13, the bench said the court would pass an interim order shortly on the constitution of an expert committee and on other ancillary issues related to an independent inquiry after considering the materials placed by the petitioners. The reiteration of its stand by the government also prompted the court to remark that the Centre was “beating around the bush”.

The Pegasus row erupted on July 18 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.

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Sunday, November 28, 2021