The central government on Monday told the Supreme Court that it cannot file a detailed affidavit in the case related to the alleged use of the Pegasus spyware, due to national security implications, reported NDTV.
“The stand of the central government is that whether a particular software was used or not cannot be a subject matter of an affidavit or debate in court or public discourse,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, told the Supreme Court on Monday, according to Live Law. “Because the issue has its own pitfalls.”
A three-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana reserved its interim orders on petitions seeking an investigation into allegations that the spyware was used to monitor journalists, political leaders, human rights activists in the country.
“You have two three days Mr Mehta [Solicitor General Tushar Mehta], if you have any rethinking you can mention before this court,” said Ramana, according to Bar and Bench.
Mehta also told the court that the Union government had already said in Parliament that “no unauthorised interception” had been done.
A committee of independent domain experts could instead look into the case instead and “we [the government] will place all before them”, Mehta said, reported Bar and Bench.
A bench comprising Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli was hearing the case.
On Mehta’s submission, Kant said that the court had already made it clear that no one was interested in disclosing matters related to the internal or external national integrity.
“We were only expecting a limited affidavit since there are petitioners before us who say their rights have been infringed by A or B agency,” Kant said, reported Bar and Bench. “You had to say whether it’s done lawfully or unlawfully.”
The chief justice asserted that the matter of national security was not related to the proceedings. Ramana added that the court only wanted to know if the surveillance was “done to see if it’s permissible under law”.
To this, the Union government’s counsel cited Section 69 of the Information Technology Act that allows interceptions. He also said that the use of this law had also unearthed links to terrorism in some cases.
“I am not averse to certain individuals claiming invasion of privacy,” the government counsel said, according to Bar and Bench. “This is serious and must be got into. The question is whether it’s Pegasus or something. Our stand is putting this into affidavit will not serve national interest.”
After the Centre’s submission, Ramana said that a fair opportunity had been given to the government, but that now they did not want to file an affidavit. “So we will pass an order like that... what to do?” he said, according to Bar and Bench.
On August 17, the Centre had also cited national security in the Supreme Court as the reason for being unable to divulge if the Pegasus spyware was used.
The government had then dismissed allegations of surveillance using Pegasus spyware as mere “conjectures and surmises” based on “unsubstantiated media reports”. It had also proposed that the allegations will be examined by a “committee of experts”.