Pegasus: Supreme Court orders independent probe, says Union’s vague denial not sufficient

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered a probe into the Pegasus surveillance scandal by a three-member expert committee.

Allegations of snooping using the Pegasus software are about fundamental rights and “could have a chilling effect”, the apex court said.

The expert committee will be headed by former Supreme Court judge, Justice RV Raveendran and will be assisted by Alok Joshi (former IPS Officer) and Dr. Sundeep Oberoi, Chairman, Sub Committee in (International Organisation of Standardisation/ International Electro-Technical Commission/Joint Technical Committee).

The committee’s report has to be handed in to the court by the next hearing, two months later.

A Bench headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana is passing the order on Wednesday on a batch of pleas.

Petitioners, including former union minister Yashwant Sinha, CPM MP John Brittas, Supreme Court advocate ML Sharma, the Editors’ Guild of India and individual journalists, had asked the court to order the government to produce details of the alleged unauthorised surveillance using Pegasus.

“The state cannot get free pass everytime by raising national security concerns. No omnibus prohibition can be called against judicial review. Centre should have justified its stand here and not render the court a mute spectator,” the bench was quoted as saying by legal website Bar and Bench.

“There has been no specific denial by the Centre. Thus, we have no option but to accept the submissions of petitioner prima facie and thus, we appoint an expert committee whose function will be overseen by the Supreme Court,” it added.

The Pegasus Project, a collaboration of 80 journalists with the Technical lab of Amnesty International, 17 news organisations, coordinated by Forbidden Stories did an in-depth forensic analysis into the massive data leak of people spied by NSO Group for government clients.

The report uncovered ‘widespread, persistent and ongoing unlawful surveillance and human rights abuses’ using the Israeli company NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. The Wire was the Indian media organisation working with the project.