The Pegasus panel, in its report submitted to the Supreme Court, said the presence of controversial Israeli spyware Pegasus was not conclusively established in 29 mobile phones examined, and also the Central government did not cooperate in the probe.
The top court-appointed panel which further stated that at least 5 out of 29 mobile handsets were possibly infected with some malware, but not specifically Pegasus spyware.
The panel, headed by retired Supreme Court judge R.V. Raveendran, submitted its report to the apex court last month. The panel said the government did not fully cooperate while examining the phone for the malware.
A bench, headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, said one thing the committee has said that the government did not cooperate.
The bench said: "The same stand you took here, you took there." At this, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, replied that he is not aware of that.
The report consisted of three parts: a report of the technical committee, digital images of phones examined for infection due to spyware, and the report of overseeing judge, Justice Raveendran. The bench indicated that it may upload the report of Justice Raveendran, but the other parts of the report may not be made public.
The report suggested that a country's cyber security needs to be enhanced, and while protecting the privacy of the citizens, it is necessary to ensure that no unauthorised surveillance is allowed.
It pointed out that there is certain malware which could be misused, cause concerns to the security, and also violate the privacy of citizens. The panel suggested that some mechanism should be put in place to check illegal surveillance, and the private firms involved in surveillance should be prosecuted.
In an order which was uploaded late in the evening, the top court said: "Pursuant to the order dated 27.10.2021, the technical committee and the overseeing judge have submitted their reports in sealed covers. The same is taken on record. The sealed covers were opened in the court and we read out some portions of the said reports. Thereafter, the reports were re-sealed and kept in the safe custody of the Secretary General of this Court, who shall make it available as and when required by the Court."
The top court has posted the matter for further hearing after four weeks.
On October 27, last year, the top court said it was compelled to take up the cause to determine the truth, as it appointed an independent expert technical committee supervised by Justice Raveendran, to probe the Pegasus snooping allegations.
The top court had authorised the technical committee to devise its own procedure to effectively implement and answer the terms of reference. The committee could hold any investigation it deemed fit and take statements of any person in connection with the inquiry and call for records of any authority or individual.
Justice Raveendran was to oversee the functioning of the technical committee and he was assisted by Alok Joshi, former IPS officer and Dr Sundeep Oberoi, Chairman, Sub Committee in International Organisation of Standardisation/International Electro-Technical Commission/Joint Technical Committee.
The three members of the technical committee ware Dr Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, Professor (Cyber Security and Digital Forensics) and Dean, National Forensic Sciences University, Gandhinagar, Dr Prabaharan P., Professor (School of Engineering), Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Amritapuri, Kerala; and Dr Ashwin Anil Gumaste, Institute Chair Associate Professor (Computer Science and Engineering), Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.
A batch of petitions including those by advocate M.L. Sharma, CPI-M MP John Brittas, journalist N. Ram, former IIM professor Jagdeep Chokkar, Narendra Mishra, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Rupesh Kumar Singh, S.N.M. Abdi and the Editors Guild of India was filed seeking an independent probe into the Pegasus snooping allegations.