The Supreme Court has set up a three-member technical committee to investigate accusations that Pegasus, an Israeli military-grade spyware, was used to snoop on Indian citizens, including journalists and political leaders. The software is sold only sold to “vetted governments”.
The court noted that in a democratic country, “indiscriminate spying on individuals” cannot be allowed without following the procedures established by law.
After the judgement, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi expressed confidence that the independent inquiry will bring out the truth. Gandhi had in July confirmed that his phones had been targeted after he featured on the list of the potential targets of the spyware.
“Pegasus is an attempt to crush Indian democracy,” Gandhi said at a media briefing. “We are very happy that the Supreme Court has agreed to look into this. There is the institution of the Parliament where we will raise this [Pegasus matter] again and we will try to have a debate.”
During the Monsoon Session of the Parliament in July, parties in the Opposition had repeatedly demanded a debate on Pegasus. Throughout the session, Opposition MLAs continued to stage protests.
Gandhi said that key questions about Pegasus were yet to be answered. “Who authorised Pegasus and who has bought Pegasus? he asked. “Who are the victims of Pegasus? Did any other country have access to the information of our people?”
Mallikarjun Kharge, the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said that the Supreme Court had also noted that the Centre had not denied using Pegasus. “Modi government stands exposed for not allowing the House to run [during the Monsoon Session],” he tweeted. “Supreme Court-appointed committee will ensure truth comes out.”
Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra said that the Union government “cannot be an adversary” in the attempt to uphold fundamental rights. “Thank you to [the] Supreme Court for pointing this out and taking the first step towards justice in Pegasus issue,” she said.
Siddharth Varadarajan, the founding editor of The Wire, one of the media organisations that participated in the Pegasus investigation, described the order as a “huge vindication”.
“At The Wire we are gratified the SC will probe the Pegasus snooping matter,” he said. “Our reporters spent months investigating the use of spyware as part of Pegasus Project.”
Advocate Prashant Bhushan said: “Kudos to the SC for a fine judgement appointing an independent fact finding committee in the Pegasus snoopgate case, headed by retired SC judge Raveendran J. The SC rejected the government’s plea of non interference on ground of national security as well as its attempt to appoint its own expert body.”
The Pegasus project
The accusations of surveillance came to light in July through an investigative project involving Paris-based media nonprofit Forbidden Stories, Amnesty International and 17 media organisations from across the world, including Indian news website The Wire. They accessed database reflecting phone numbers of potential targets of surveillance.
The possible targets in India included over 40 journalists, two Union ministers, former Election Commissioner of India Ashok Lavasa, former Supreme Court judge Arun Mishra and the woman who accused former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment, among others.
Among global personalities, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, French President Emmanuel Macron and his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa were the possible targets of surveillance using Pegasus hacking software.