An advocate has filed a petition before the Supreme Court seeking a court-monitored probe into the alleged surveillance by government agencies using the Pegasus spyware, PTI reported on Friday. The matter is likely to be heard shortly.

A leaked database of over 50,000 numbers, potential targets of surveillance, was first accessed by Paris-based non-profit Forbidden Stories and rights advocacy group Amnesty International. It became the basis of a global investigation called the Pegasus Project in which 17 media organisations collaborated. The Wire from India is among the participants in the project.

Petitioner ML Sharma said the alleged snooping by the Pegasus spyware was a serious attack on Indian democracy. He added that the potential attacks posed a risk to the national security of the country.

“Pegasus is not just a surveillance tool,” read the petition. “It is a cyber-weapon being unleashed on the Indian polity.”

The plea said the Pegasus spyware can be used to access the entire digital imprint of one’s life. “Privacy is not about the wish to hide, as is often asserted,” said the petition. “It is about having a space of one’s own where our thoughts and being are not the instrument of someone else’s purposes. It is an essential component of dignity and agency.”

Sharma asked the court to form a Special Investigation Team to inquire into the allegations. The lawyer added that all the accused must be prosecuted for buying the Pegasus spyware. He also sought to declare buying Pegasus software for snooping illegal and unconstitutional.

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The Pegasus project revelations

The global investigation has revealed the names of heads of state, politicians, students, activists, journalists and lawyers in several countries as possible targets of surveillance. The Pegasus Project has raised serious questions about the misuse of spyware sold only to governments.

In India, prominent names on the list of potential targets included Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Union ministers Prahlad Patel and Ashwini Vaishnaw, election strategist Prashant Kishor, virologist Gagandeep Kang and Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

The database also included the names of dozens of journalists and activists including The Wire’s founder-editors Siddharth Varadarajan and MK Venu, The Hindu’s Vijaita Singh, the Hindustan Times’ Shishir Gupta as well as the accused in the Bhima Koregaon case and their lawyers and friends.

The revelations have triggered a huge political row in India, with the Opposition heavily criticising the Centre during the Monsoon Session of Parliament.

On Monday, the Congress demanded that Union Home Minister Amit Shah be sacked and called for an inquiry into Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in the alleged surveillance. But Shah dismissed their accusations and raised questions about the timing of the report.