After the ruckus in the Parliament, the stand-off between the government and the opposition over the Pegasus issue has now moved to the Supreme Court. The top court today will hear at least nine petitions seeking a probe in the alleged use of Pegasus spyware on sitting supreme court judges (since retired) and staff of the top court registry, opposition members, civil liberties activists, journalists, and businessmen among others.
BOOM examines the nine pleas that have been filed so far. Almost all of them seek a court-monitored probe of the same. The Pegasus Project is an investigation carried out by a global consortium of media organisations including The Wire from India on a leaked list of potential targets for surveillance by NSO owned Pegasus spyware.
Advocate Manohar Lal Sharma
Rafale deals, coal scam, the film Padmavat, constitutional functionaries, or judges - Sharma has a cause of grievance for all. Since 2007, Sharma has filed more than 50 PILs in the supreme court; and has often courted the judges' ire for his poorly drafted pleas.
Hence it was no surprise when Sharma filed the first PIL, thereby becoming the lead petitioner, in the Pegasus snoop gate. Sharma, who is seeking a court-monitored probe, submitted: "Pegasus scandal is a matter of grave concern and an attack on the Indian democracy, country's security and judiciary. The widespread use of surveillance is morally disfiguring. National security implications of this software is huge".
Journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar
Veteran journalists N Ram, director of the Hindu Group of publications and Sashi Kumar, the founder of Asianet filed a plea in the top court contending that surveillance by means of hacking violates one's fundamental right to privacy.
"Such targeted surveillance using military-grade spyware is an unacceptable violation of the right to privacy which has been held to be a fundamental right under Articles 14, 19, and 21 by the Supreme Court in KS Puttaswamy v. Union of India," the plea said.
The plea points out that the government has not categorically denied licensing and using spyware to conduct surveillance on Indian citizens. The plea also seeks directions to the Centre to disclose whether the government or any of its agencies obtained licenses of the same and used it directly or indirectly to conduct surveillance.
Journalists Rupesh Kumar Singh and Ipsa Shatakshi
Singh and his wife Shatakshi are journalists who featured in the leaked list of potential targets. They alleged that they were victims of a "deeply intrusive surveillance and hacking by the Government of India or some other third party".
Apart from the judicial probe in this issue, the journalist duo has also sought the implementation of a judicial oversight mechanism to look into complaints of such illegal breaches of their privacy.
Journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta
Veteran journalist Thakurta, who also featured on the list as a potential target, alleged that the existence of Pegasus will have a "tremendous chilling effect" one's right to free speech. Thakurta has urged the Supreme Court to declare the use of such spyware unconstitutional and illegal.
Journalists SNM Abidi and Prem Shankar Jha
Abidi and Jha along with Thakurta, Singh, and Shatakshi filed three similar pleas on this issue. Abidi and Jha, like the three others, also feature in the leaked list as potential targets.
Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas
Kerala MP Brittas, a member of the Communist Party Of India (Maoist), was the second individual (after ML Sharma) to file a plea in the SC. He alleged that third-party snooping, phone tapping, wiretapping, line bugging, etc. was a critical invasion of one's right to privacy.
"This is in clear derogation of Article-21 of the Indian Constitution unambiguously stating that no person shall be deprived of his life for personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law," his plea said. Brittas further sought the constitution of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to look into this matter.
Editors Guild of India
The Guild has challenged the constitutionality of rules for electronic surveillance, along with hacking and the use of spyware. The guild alleged: "The citizens of India have a right to know if the Executive government is infringing the limits of their authority under the Constitution and what steps have been taken to safeguard their fundamental rights".
The journalists' society has also asked the government to produce details of any contracts entered into with foreign companies for the purchase and use of spyware for surveillance and the list of people against whom it has been used.
The guild also seeks the production of government orders authorising the interception, monitoring, and decryption of electronic communication devices of Indian citizens under the relevant law and rules, with the reasons in writing for the issuance of the same.
They asserted that the freedom of the press relied on a journalists' ability to report on all matters freely without any interference from the government or any of its agencies.
Jagdeep Chokkar and Narendra Mishra
An academician, Chokkar is the co-founder of the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), a civil society that works on issues of electoral and political reform. Chokkar alleged that the consortium reporting on the Pegasus Project are not mere media reports, but a detailed investigation based on which two nations have taken action. "These media reports enjoy a high degree of credibility," senior advocate Shyam Divan said for Chokkar in the top court.
Details of Mishra's petition are unavailable as of yet.
Updated On: 2021-08-05T19:04:53+05:30