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Finally, Supreme Court sets up a panel to probe Pegasus row

Nirendra Dev

Nirendra DevOct 27, 2021, 02:29 PM IST

Finally, Supreme Court sets up a panel to probe Pegasus row

New Delhi: Ending weeks of suspense, the Supreme Court on Wednesday (October 27) ruled that there has been no specific denial by the Central government on Pegasus issue, and thus it has to accept the submissions of petitioner prima facie and said, "We appoint an expert committee whose function will be overseen by the Court."

The panel will comprise three technical members and be supervised by a retired judge Justice R V Raveendran. It will conduct a "thorough inquiry" into allegations of the use of Pegasus software for unauthorised surveillance.

Justice Raveendran will be assisted in this task by Alok Joshi, former IPS officer (1976 batch) and Sundeep Oberoi, Chairman, Sub Committee in (International Organisation of Standardisation/International Electro-Technical Commission/Joint Technical Committee). 

The three technical members of the committee are Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, Professor (Cyber Security and Digital Forensics) and Dean, National Forensic Sciences University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat; Prabaharan P, Professor (School of Engineering), Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, 

Amritapuri, Kerala; and Ashwin Anil Gumaste, Institute Chair Associate Professor (Computer Science and Engineering), Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Maharashtra.

The Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said the committee would "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 the Respondent-Union of India has taken steps/actions after reports were published in the year 2019 about the hacking of WhatsApp accounts of Indian citizens, using the Pegasus suite of spyware.

The committee will also look into 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; and 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.

The committee will also probe If any domestic entity/person has used the spyware on the citizens of this country, then is such a use authorised and whether 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 Court ordered that it will also make recommendations (i) Regarding enactment or amendment to existing law and procedures surrounding surveillance and for securing the 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 under the law, by State and/or non­State entities through such spyware; and (iv) Regarding the establishment of a mechanism for citizens to raise grievances on suspicion of illegal surveillance of their devices.

It will also recommend 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; regarding any ad­hoc arrangement that this Court may make as an interim measure for the protection of citizens' rights, pending filling up of lacunae by the Parliament, and any other ancillary matter the Committee may deem fit and proper.

Among other things, the court said there were 'compelling circumstances' that led to the decision to set up the Committee.

They were - that the "entire citizenry is affected by such allegations" due to the potential chilling effect. And there was "No clear stand" taken by the Respondent-Union of India regarding its actions and seriousness accorded to the allegations by foreign countries and involvement of foreign parties.

 

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