Former Union minister Yashwant Sinha has filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking an investigation into the allegations of surveillance through the Pegasus spyware, Live Law reported on Thursday.
Sinha sought that the inquiry should be monitored by the court and a mechanism should be set up to oversee any surveillance-related request made by and to any ministry or government agency.
“The respondent government has used a certified military foreign origin spyware against its own citizens,” the plea stated. “The citizens of the country have a right to know whether their personal information was being used by foreign or Indian agencies under the oversight of the respondent government.”
Pointing out that a number of journalists were on the list of potential targets of the spyware, Sinha submitted that the alleged surveillance amounted to violation of an individual’s freedom of expression, Bar and Bench reported. The plea added that the alleged use of the spyware was likely to have a chilling effect on freedom of speech.
The petition was mentioned on Thursday in the Supreme Court along with a batch of pleas seeking similar directions.
The bench, headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana observed that the spying allegations, if confirmed, were serious. The court directed the petitioners’ lawyers to serve a copy of their pleas to the Centre and asked the government’s counsel to be present at the next hearing on August 10.
Apart from Sinha, petitions have been filed on the matter by the Editors Guild of India, former editor of The Hindu N Ram and Asian College of Journalism Chairperson Sashi Kumar, Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas and advocate ML Sharma.
Journalists Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Prem Shankar Jha, SNM Abdi, Rupesh Kumar Singh and Ipsa Shataksi, reported to have been on the list of potential Pegasus spyware targets, have also moved the Supreme Court.
Pegasus surveillance allegations
The alleged misuse of the spyware came to light earlier this month when Paris-based media nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International accessed a database featuring more than 50,000 phone numbers “concentrated in countries known to engage in surveillance of their citizens”.
The list of potential targets in India over 40 journalists, two Union ministers, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, former Election Commissioner of India Ashok Lavasa and a former Supreme Court staffer who accused former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment.
The spyware is licensed to governments around the world by the Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO Group. The company insists that it licences its software only to “vetted governments” with good human-rights records and that Pegasus is intended to target criminals.
Responding to the allegations of spying, Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, who himself happens to be on the list of potential targets of the spyware, told Parliament on July 19 that illegal surveillance was not possible in India. However, the Centre has not yet categorically denied that it used the Pegasus spyware.