NEW DELHI, Sept 23:
In a significant development, the Supreme Court Thursday observed orally that it will set up a technical expert committee to inquire into the Pegasus snooping matter and pass an interim order next week on a batch of pleas seeking an independent probe into the entire issue.
The apex court’s observations on constituting the committee assume significance in view of the Centre’s statement that it would set up an expert panel on its own to look into the grievances of the alleged surveillance of certain eminent Indians by hacking their phones using Israeli firm NSO’s spyware, Pegasus.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana, which was to hear some other matter, addressed senior lawyer C U Singh, one of the counsels in the pleas, that the order will be pronounced next week.
“We wanted to pass an order this week,” the CJI said, adding that it had to be deferred as some members of the technical committee, which the court had in mind, expressed “personal difficulties” in becoming part of it.
“That is why it is taking time to constitute the committee,” the CJI said, adding, “We will be able to finalise the members of the technical expert team by next week and then pronounce our orders.”
The CJI told Singh that he was conveying this to him as senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who had argued for senior journalists N Ram and Shashi Kumar, has not been seen in courts for the last few days.
“I will inform Sibal,” Singh told the bench which then proceeded with the hearing in other listed cases.
The apex court, while reserving its interim order on September 13, had said that it will be pronouncing an order in a few days and had asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, to mention the case if the government has a re-think about filing a detailed affidavit.
The bench had said that it only wants to know from the Centre whether Pegasus was used to allegedly spy on individuals and if it was done lawfully after the latter expressed its unwillingness to file a detailed affidavit citing national security.
Observing that concerns have been raised by journalists and others over violation of privacy in the Pegasus row, the top court had said it will pass an interim order on their pleas, reiterating it was not interested in knowing issues related to national security.
The Centre had said that it did not wish to file a detailed affidavit on whether a particular software is used or not as it was not a matter for public discussion and will not be in the “larger national interest”.
The law officer had contended that the disclosure whether the country is using a particular software or not may cause “harm” and alert all potential targets, including terror groups.
“We had to have your affidavit to understand your stand. We do not want to say anything further,” the court had told Mehta, adding that if a spyware is used by the government then it has to be as per the procedure established by the law.
The law officer had said the government has “nothing to hide” and that is why the Centre has on its own said it will constitute a committee of domain experts who will look into the allegations and report to the court.
“I am not averse to certain individuals claiming invasion of privacy. This is serious and must be gotten into. The question is whether it is Pegasus or something. Our stand is putting this into an affidavit will not serve national interest… Hence allow us to form a committee of domain experts without the government members,” Mehta had added.
The pleas seeking an independent probe are related to reports of alleged snooping by government agencies on eminent citizens, politicians and scribes by using Israeli firm NSO’s spyware Pegasus.
An international media consortium has reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus spyware. (PTI)