Union govt says it doesn't want to file affidavit on Pegasus, cites 'national security'

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that it is not a matter for public discussion whether the government uses a particular software or not.
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The Union government told the Supreme Court on Monday that it does not wish to file a detailed affidavit on a batch of petitions seeking independent probe into the alleged Pegasus snooping row, while the top court said it would pass an interim order on the issue. A bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Union government, that if the government re-thinks about filing a detailed affidavit in the case, he can mention the matter before it.

“We are reserving order. We will pass some interim order. It will take two-three days. If you have some re-thinking on this, you can mention the matter before us,” the bench, also comprising justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, told the law officer.

“You (Solicitor General) have repeatedly been saying that the Government does not want to file an affidavit. We also do not want any security issues to be put before us. You say that a committee will be formed and the report will be submitted... We have to look into the whole issue and pass an interim order,” the bench said, adding, “Mr Mehta, you have been beating around the bush and that is not the question here.”

During the hearing, Mehta told the bench that the government does not wish to file a detailed affidavit in the matter as the issue whether a particular software is used or not by the government is not a matter for public discussion and making this a part of an affidavit will not be in national interest.

He said the government has nothing to hide and that is why the Union government has on its own said that it will constitute a committee of domain experts who will look into these allegations.

Mehta told the bench that report of the committee of domain experts will be made available to the apex court. The top court told Mehta that it had already made clear that it did not want the government to disclose anything which compromises national security.

On September 7, the apex court had granted more time to the Union government to decide on filing a further response on the petitions after Mehta had said that due to some difficulties he could not meet the officials concerned to take a decision on the filing of the second affidavit.

The Union government had earlier filed a limited affidavit in the top court saying the pleas seeking an independent probe into the Pegasus snooping allegations are based on "conjectures and surmises or on other unsubstantiated media reports or incomplete or uncorroborated material".

In its limited affidavit filed in the court, the Union government had said that the position on the issue has already been clarified in Parliament by Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.

With a view to dispelling any wrong narrative spread by certain vested interests and examining the issues raised, the government will constitute a committee of experts, it had said.

The pleas 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.

The top court, while issuing notice to the Union government on the pleas on August 17, had said that it did not want the government to disclose anything related to the national security and had asked the Union government what is the "problem" if the competent authority files an affidavit before it on the issue.

“Our considered response is what we have respectfully stated in our last affidavit. Kindly examine the issue from our point of view as our affidavit is sufficient," the law officer had told the bench, adding, "The Government of India is before the highest court of the country."

Mehta had said that if the government of any country divulges information about which software is used and which is not used, then those involved in terrorist activities may take preemptive measures.

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