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The Supreme Court today set up a three-member committee to probe the Pegasus spyware snooping allegations. This committee will be supervised by a retired top court judge Justice R.V. Raveendran, who will be assisted by Alok Joshi, former IPS officer and Dr Sundeep Oberoi.

A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana said the court is rejecting the request made by the Union of India to allow it to set up the committee to probe the snooping allegations. 

The Centre had argued that disclosing the details on the use of Pegasus spyware involves national security issues, as it refused to divulge any details. 

SC’s ruling

  • The top court, in its judgment, said mere raising national security by state would not stop it from taking up the issue, and emphasized that national security can't be a bug bear and refused to accept the omnibus denial by the Centre. 

The bench noted that the Centre filed a limited affidavit, which didn't make anything clear despite it repeatedly saying that the court is not concerned with issues of national security.

  • The bench emphasized, "We live in the era of information. We must recognise that while technology is important, it is important to safeguard the right to privacy." It further added, "not only journalists, etc., but privacy is important for all citizens."

  • The bench noted that Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that many petitions were self-service, but it cannot accept such omnibus contention. 

  • "Centre should have justified its stand here and not render the court a mute spectator," noted the bench also comprising justice Surya Kant and Hima Kohli.

  • The matter will be taken up after 8 weeks.

The Timeline

Also Read: Pegasus row: SC sets up committee to probe snooping allegations

  • Over 300 mobile phone numbers in India were targeted by Israeli company NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, revealed a global collaborative investigation project on July 18 of this year. Numbers of two serving ministers in the Narendra Modi government, three Opposition leaders, one constitutional authority, several journalists, and business people were included in the spyware's target list.

The database had at least 300 phone numbers of human rights activists, attorneys, journalists, politicians, and dissidents from across the country, according to The Wire.

  • The Centre firmly refuted all "over-the-top allegations" of spying using Pegasus Spyware on July 19, 2021. The report was deemed "sensational" by the Union government, and an attempt "to tarnish Indian democracy and its well-established institutions."

The NSO Group also maintained that the snooping allegations were false and deceptive.

  • During the monsoon session of Parliament on July 20, 2021, Congress demanded that the Pegasus snooping incident be investigated by a Joint Parliamentary Committee. While raising the matter, Congress, together with other parties, halted proceedings in both houses of Parliament.

  • On July 22 and onwards, several petitions demanding investigation over spying by the union government were filed in Supreme Court.

  • Over 500 individuals and organisations wrote to Chief Justice of India (CJI) N V Ramana on July 29, 2021, requesting that the Supreme Court intervene immediately in the snooping scandal. They also demanded a ban on the sale, transfer, and use of Israeli spyware firm NSO's Pegasus in India.

  • On August 5, 2021, the Supreme Court heard eight petitions seeking an independent investigation into the matter. The Supreme Court called the claims of spying through the use of Pegasus spyware as "serious," and asked why no one had filed an FIR if there were grounds to suspect that phones had been hacked. 

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