The expert committee will be headed by former judge Justice RV Raveendran and delve into seven broad issues framed by the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court of India
news Court Wednesday, October 27, 2021 - 11:10

The Supreme Court on Wednesday, October 27 said it has set up a committee to probe the Pegasus snooping allegations, adding that the committee, which will be headed by a retired judge, will look into seven broad issues. The bench of Justice CJI Ramana, Justice Hima Kohli and Justice Surya Kant said it has also rejected the Union government’s request to allow them to set up the committee. The Supreme Court said that the committee will be headed by retired judge Justice RV Raveendran and the committee has been asked to expeditiously probe this matter. 

“We live in the era of information... we must recognise that while technology is is important to safeguard the right to privacy, not only journalists etc but privacy is important for all citizens,” CJI Ramana observed while reading out the judgment, reported Bar and Bench.

The court observed that it is incumbent upon the Union government to seriously consider the use of a technology like Pegasus, noting that the freedom of the press cannot be undermined by invasion of the right to privacy. “It will have a chilling effect on the right to freedom of speech. I have discussed the need for protecting the  right to privacy in India,” the Chief Justice of India observed, while reading out the judgment. 

The apex court added that there are restrictions on the right to privacy, but “those restrictions have to stand constitutional scrutiny. In today's world, the restriction on privacy is to prevent terrorism activity and can only be imposed when needed to protect national security,” the court observed.

The court said that it had given ample time to the Union government to disclose all information on Pegasus, but only a “limited affidavit was filed throwing no light.” The Supreme Court also pulled up the Union government for not justifying its stand and reducing the court to a “mute spectator.”

“The State cannot get a free pass every time 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 Supreme Court said.

“If the Centre had made their stand clear, the burden on us would have been lesser,” the apex court added. 

The case has been adjourned to be heard after eight weeks. The committee has been asked to probe the matter expeditiously. 

The apex court’s order came on a batch of pleas, including those filed by senior journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar along with the Editors Guild of India, seeking an independent probe into the alleged Pegasus snooping matter. The pleas seeking 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 had reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus spyware.

Also read: Explained: How Pegasus spyware works and how you can keep your phone safe