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Pegasus Snooping: TN MP Seeks AG's Consent To Initiate Contempt Proceedings Against NSO Group Directors; Secretary Home

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
14 Aug 2021 7:47 AM GMT
Pegasus Snooping: TN MP Seeks AGs Consent To Initiate Contempt Proceedings Against NSO Group Directors; Secretary Home
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Tamil Nadu MP Dr. T. Thirumaavalavan has written a letter to the Attorney General for India, KK Venugopal, seeking his consent for initiation of criminal contempt proceedings against the directors of the NSO Group for alleged "military grade surveillance" of a Supreme Court justice, while he still was in office, two Supreme Court registry officials on the judicial side of the writ...

Tamil Nadu MP Dr. T. Thirumaavalavan has written a letter to the Attorney General for India, KK Venugopal, seeking his consent for initiation of criminal contempt proceedings against the directors of the NSO Group for alleged "military grade surveillance" of a Supreme Court justice, while he still was in office, two Supreme Court registry officials on the judicial side of the writ section, and another Supreme Court staffer.

NSO is an Israel based company, which owns spyware Pegasus.

The MP has also sought consent for initiation of contempt against incumbent secretary of Home Mr. Ajay Bhalla, as well as the previous Secretary of Home Mr. Rajiv Gauba, for alleged involvement in the Pegasus Snooping scandal.

"Some of the alleged hacking and surveillance has occurred during the tenure of the present Home Secretary Mr. Ajay Bhalla and some of it in the tenure of Mr. Rajiv Gauba, the then Home Secretary (who now happens to be the Cabinet Secretary). It is therefore proposed that both Mr. Bhalla and Mr. Gauba be arraigned as Alleged Contemnors in the proposed contempt petition for which Your consent is sought," the letter reads.

As per Section 15 of Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, in the case of a criminal contempt, the Supreme Court or the High Court may take action on its own motion or on a motion made by (i) the Advocate-General, or (ii) any other person, with the consent in writing of the Advocate-General.

According to a report of The Wire, the woman staffer who raised the sexual harassment allegations against the former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and some of her family members were listed as the potential targets of Pegasus snooping

The MP contends that such an act tends to "interfere and obstruct the administration of justice", thus falling under the definition of Criminal Contempt of Court under S. 2(c)(iii) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.

The Wire later published a startling report stating that an old mobile number associated with Justice Arun Mishra, numbers of two Supreme Court officials and three advocates were also included in the list of Pegasus targets.

Though Justice Mishra has said on record that he had surrendered the targeted phone number in 2014, which was added to the database in 2019, the letter states,

"the fact that the number which was registered in his name was added to the target list in 2019, when he was a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, is reason enough for initiating contempt."

It adds,

"When numbers of the above-mentioned registry officials were added to the database, they worked in the crucial 'writ' section of the Supreme Court's registry, which handles thousands of writ petitions every year, which are of direct concern to the union government."

It continues that targeted surveillance on the officials of Judiciary shakes the trust of the public in the judiciary, thus weakening the very foundation of the judiciary itself.

"For the judiciary to perform its duties and functions effectively it is necessary to protect the authority of courts at all costs. Any unjust interference with the work of the judiciary will weaken the cornerstone of our constitutional scheme and, hence, jeopardise the rule of law and civilised life in the society. This is the sole reason that the Judiciary in India has been vested with powers to punish those who indulge in any act which tends to interfere or obstructs the judges from discharging their duties without fear or favour," the letter reads.

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 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.

Earlier this week, the Court granted time to Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to seek instructions from the Government. The matter will now be heard on Monday, August 16.

"Pegasus Spyware not only allows for a deep, and extensive surveillance of the contents and communication using the infected phone – but also enables remote control of it and all its contents and functions, including access to otherwise encrypted communication. It is reported that it is also capable of remote activation of the infected phone's camera/s and microphone, thus allowing record and relay of private conversations and meetings," the letter avers.

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