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SC panel to probe allegations of State using Pegasus for surveillance
The terms of the three-member technical committee appointed by the Supreme Court are to find out whether Pegasus was used to access data or eavesdrop on conversations of Indian citizens and if the Israeli spyware was acquired by the Centre or any State Government and also to make recommendations on privacy law and enhancing cyber security. The investigations will be supervised by retired Supreme Court judge Justice RV Raveendran.

NEW DELHI, Oct 27: The Supreme Court on Wednesday set up an independent committee to inquire into the allegations of Government using foreign software Pegasus for surveillance of its citizens.

The ruling came on a batch of 12 petitions which sought an independent probe into the widespread allegations of unauthorised surveillance by the Government. Media reports had disclosed the names of over a hundred Indians who were allegedly snooped on by using the spyware, Pegasus, a flagship product of Israel’s NGO Group.

The apex court overruled the Cenre's argument over national security and appointed the committee comprising of three technical members and supervised by retired Supreme Court judge Justice RV Raveendran to conduct a “thorough inquiry” into the allegations. Justice Raveendran will also be assisted in this task by Alok Joshi, a former IPS officer, and Sundeep Oberoi, Chairman, Sub Committee, International Organisation of Standardisation/International Electro-Technical Commission/Joint Technical Committee.

The three technical members are (1) Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, Professor (Cyber Security and Digital Forensics) and Dean, National Forensic Sciences University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat; (2) Prabaharan P, Professor (School of Engineering), Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Amritapuri, Kerala; and, (3) Ashwin Anil Gumaste, Institute Chair, Associate Professor (Computer Science and Engineering), Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Maharashtra.

The bench comprising of Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli and headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana said the committee will “enquire, investigate and determine” (i) whether the Pegasus suite of spyware was used on phones or other devices of the citizens of India to access stored data, eavesdrop on conversations, intercept information and/or for any other purposes not explicitly stated herein; (ii) The details of the victims and/or persons affected by such a spyware attack; (iii) What steps/actions have been taken by the Respondent-Union of India after reports were published in the year 2019 about hacking of WhatsApp accounts of Indian citizens, using the Pegasus suite of spyware; (iv) Whether any Pegasus suite of spyware was acquired by the Respondent Union of India, or any State Government, or any Central or State agency for use against the citizens of India; (v) If any governmental agency has used the Pegasus suite of spyware on the citizens of this country, under what law, rule, guideline, protocol or lawful procedure was such deployment made; (vi) If any domestic entity/person has used the spyware on the citizens of this country, then is such a use authorised; (vii) Any other matter or aspect which may be connected, ancillary or incidental to the above terms of reference, which the Committee may deem fit and proper to investigate.

The committee will also make recommendations (i) Regarding enactment or amendment to existing law and procedures surrounding surveillance and for securing improved right to privacy; (ii) Regarding enhancing and improving the cyber security of the nation and its assets; (iii) To ensure prevention of invasion of citizens’ right to privacy, otherwise than in accordance with law, by State and/or non­State entities through such spywares; (iv) Regarding the establishment of a mechanism for citizens to raise grievances on suspicion of illegal surveillance of their devices; (v) Regarding the setting up of a well-equipped independent premier agency to investigate cyber security vulnerabilities, for threat assessment relating to cyberattacks and to investigate instances of cyberattacks in the country; (vi) Regarding any ad­hoc arrangement that may be made by this Court as an interim measure for the protection of citizen’s rights, pending filling up of lacunae by the Parliament; (vii) On any other ancillary matter that the Committee may deem fit and proper

Earlier during arguments the Centre had refused to submit affidavits on its claims but told the court that it was willing to diclose information as needed before a committee of experts and urged the court to allow it to appoint such a committee.

The court had also pointed out that certain limitations exist when it comes to the right to privacy but any restrictions imposed must necessarily pass constitutional scrutiny.

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