Pegasus : Technical Committee Examining 29 Mobile Phones; Supreme Court Grants 4 More Weeks To Submit Probe Report To Overseeing Judge
The Supreme Court on Friday granted further time to the Court-appointed Technical Committee, probing allegations of widespread and targeted surveillance of politicians, journalists, activist etc using the Pegasus spyware, to submit its report to the overseeing judge, former SC judge Justice RV Raveendran.
A Bench comprising CJI NV Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli stated that it has received an interim report from the Committee, which has tested 29 mobile devices suspected of malware infection. However, the Committee has sought time till end of May 2022 to finalize its report.
"They have examined 29 mobiles. They have developed their own software. They have also issued notices to agencies including government and journalists...It has prayed time for submitting its report. Now, it is under process. We will give them time," CJI Ramana said.
The Bench however passed no orders on the request made by Senior Advocates Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Petitioners, to make the interim report available to them. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta opposed making the report public saying that it is only an interim report.
The bench has directed the Committee to expedite the examination of mobile devices, preferably in 4 weeks, and send a report to the overseeing Judge, former SC judge Justice RV Raveendran. The overseeing judge will add his comments to the report and submit a report thereafter. The matter will be considered next in July, after the Court reopens following summer vacations.
The Technical committee constituted by the court to look into the allegations of widespread and targeted surveillance of politicians, journalists, activist etc using the Pegasus spyware has submitted its interim report
The court was expected to consider the report on 23rd February. However the hearing was deferred on the Solicitor General's request.
The Court had in October last year constituted a Committee headed by retired Supreme Court judge Justice RV Raveendran and had asked the committee to investigate the matter expeditiously.
The overseeing Judge was assisted in this task by:
i. Mr. Alok Joshi, former IPS officer (1976 batch)¯
ii. Dr. Sundeep Oberoi, Chairman, Sub Committee in (International Organisation of Standardisation/ International Electro-Technical Commission/Joint Technical Committee).
The three members Technical Committee comprised of:
- Dr. Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, Professor (Cyber Security and Digital Forensics) and Dean, National Forensic Sciences University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat.
- Dr. Prabaharan P., Professor (School of Engineering), Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Amritapuri, Kerala.
- Dr. Ashwin Anil Gumaste, Institute Chair Associate Professor (Computer Science and Engineering), Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Maharashtra.
The Court constituted the probe committee after making a prima facie finding that the petitioners had established a case. In a judgment emphasising the importance of free speech and press freedom and expressing concerns about unauthorised surveillance, the bench led by CJI NV Ramana stated that national security ground raised by the State cannot totally exclude judicial review. The Central Government had refused to disclose whether it had used Pegasus spyware by stating that it was a national security issue. Rejecting the Centre's defence, the Court said that mere invocation of national security can't give the State a free pass. The Court also rejected the Centre's proposal that it can form a technical committee by saying that an independent committee was required to ensure impartial probe.
The Pegasus controversy erupted on July 18 after The Wire and several other international publications published reports about the mobile numbers which were potential targets of the spyware service given by NSO company to various governments, including India. 40 Indian journalists, political leaders like Rahul Gandhi, election strategist Prashant Kishore, former ECI member Ashok Lavassa etc are reported to be in the list of targets, as per The Wire.
Several petitions were thereafter filed before the Top Court seeking an independent probe into the matter, notice whereupon is yet to be issued. However, the Top Court has expressed concern over the alleged incident, saying that no doubt, the allegations are serious, if the reports are true. "Truth has to come out, that's a different story. We don't know whose names are there", CJI NV Ramana said.
The petitions have been filed by several people including Advocate ML Sharma, journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar, CPI(M) Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas, five pegasus targets( Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, SNM Abdi, Prem Shankar Jha, Rupesh Kumar Singh and Ipsa Shataksi), social activist Jagdeep Chhokkar, Narendra Kumar Mishra and the Editors Guild of India.
Case Title : Manohar Lal Sharma versus Union of India and connected cases