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Pegasus row: Supreme Court to hear batch of pleas seeking probe into alleged snooping

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 PTI
New Delhi Published on: August 05, 2021 10:28 IST
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Pegasus row: Supreme Court to hear batch of pleas seeking probe into alleged snooping

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear on Thursday a batch of petitions, including those filed by the Editors Guild of India and senior journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar, seeking independent probe into the alleged Pegasus snooping matter.

As per the cause list uploaded on the apex court website, a bench comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justice Surya Kant will hear nine separate pleas on the issue 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.

Editors Guild of India has sought in its plea that a special investigation team (SIT) be set up to conduct probe into the reported surveillance of journalists and others. The guild’s petition, in which veteran journalist Mrinal Pande is also one of the petitioner, has said that its members and all scribes have the duty of holding all branches of government accountable by seeking information, explanations and constitutionally valid justifications for state action and inaction.

The apex court would also hear a separate plea filed by senior journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, whose name featured in the reported list of those who were targets of alleged snooping using Pegasus, seeking directions to the Centre to disclose materials with respect to investigation and authorisation pertaining to the purported use of Israeli spyware on his mobile.

Thakurta, who has said in his plea that existence of Pegasus will have a “tremendous chilling effect” on the right to free speech in India, has urged the top court to declare that use of malware or spyware is illegal and unconstitutional.

According to the plea filed by Ram and Kumar, the alleged snooping represented an attempt by agencies and organisations to muzzle the exercise of free speech and expression of dissent in India. The petition also seeks a direction to the Centre to disclose if the government or any of its agencies obtained licence for Pegasus spyware and used it, either directly or indirectly, to conduct surveillance in any manner.

According to the petition, hacking of phones using the Pegasus spyware constituted a criminal offence punishable under Sections 66 (computer related offences), 66B (punishment for dishonestly receiving stolen computer resource or communication device), 66E (punishment for violation of privacy) and 66F (punishment for cyber terrorism) of the IT Act, punishable with imprisonment and/or fine.

The court would also hear a separate petition filed by advocate M L Sharma who has sought a court-monitored probe by a SIT into the reports of alleged snooping.

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