The Supreme Court held in Pegasus Case that there has been no specific denial by the centre. Thus we have no option but to accept the submissions of petitioner prima facie and thus we appoint an expert committee whose function will be overseen by the supreme court.
“The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the force of the Crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake, the wind may blow through it, the storm may enter, the rain may enter but the King of England cannot enter!”Supreme Court quotes William Pitt in Pegasus order
The Centre had declined to specify whether the spyware was employed or not and had informed the court that it could not provide a full statement due to national security concerns. It had, however, promised to organise an independent committee of specialists to probe the matter under the supervision of the Supreme Court. The government issued a statement in parliament, claiming that no unlawful interception had occurred.
“In a democratic country governed by the rule of law, indiscriminate spying on people cannot be tolerated unless accompanied by sufficient statutory protections and carried out in accordance with the method established by law under the Constitution”Supreme Court
The Supreme Court further noted that the government cannot be given a pass every time the threat of “national security” is mentioned. National security cannot be a thorny issue that the judiciary avoids simply by addressing it.
The Supreme Court also stated that it was first dissatisfied with the petitions submitted in the Pegasus case since they were entirely based on media stories, but when the SC expressed its doubts, more petitions and documents were brought on record that cannot be dismissed.
“A legitimate expectation of privacy exists for members of a civilised democratic society. Every individual should be safeguarded against invasions of privacy. This expectation allows us to exercise our choices, liberties, and freedom.
We must recognise that, while technology may be used to improve people’s lives, it can equally be used to intrude on an individual’s private space.“
It was an exceedingly difficult task in this world of conflicts to discover and choose specialists who are prejudice-free, independent, and competent. Rather than depending on government authorities, we formed a committee based on information gathered independently and therefore, the Supreme Court has directed an expert committee led by retired Supreme Court Justice R.V. Raveendran to investigate the Pegasus claims as soon as possible and produce a report within eight weeks.
The Centre told the Supreme Court that it would not file a detailed affidavit on petitions inquiring about the alleged use of the Pegasus spyware.
The Supreme Court reserved its verdict on the nature of interim order to be passed on petitions seeking a court-monitored SIT prove. The case is of alleged snooping on politicians, journalists and activists using Pegasus spyware. The Government said such publication of affidavit in the Supreme Court would compromise the national security.
A bench of Chief Justice of India, NV Ramana, Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli were concerned about the allegations of rights violation raised by ordinary citizens through illegal use of the spyware and did not want any information related to National security.
The Solicitor General Tushar Mehta restated the stand of Government which stated that a committee will be constituted by it that will examine the issue.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta
Suppose I say that I don’t use this software. Then it will alert the terror groups. If I say I’m using this software, please remember, every software has a counter-software. The groups will take pre-emptive steps.
He requested the court to allow the government to form a committee of “domain experts”. He assured that a detailed report would be submitted to the court and the committee members will not have any relationship with the government.
“The committee report will have to withstand the Supreme Court’s judicial scrutiny…I am not averse to an enquiry. The Government takes individuals’ plea of violation of their privacy seriously. It has to be gone into, it must be gone into..it is the feeling of the government that such an issue cannot be placed on affidavit. It has to be gone through by a committee. It concerns national security,” he said.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal said the state can not act in a matter which prevents the court from rendering complete justice by withholding information.
Justice Kant said that even Court is concerned about national security but it can’t ignore the concerns about privacy raised by the citizens of the country.
“We just wanted you to clarify whether their privacy was violated or not. Whether surveillance, if done at all, was after lawful permission. Was the interception done by any agency unlawfully? Should the government not be concerned if any “outside agency” had violated our citizen’s privacy?”Justice Surya Kant.
According to International media, over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus spyware. The phones of an Ex Supreme Court judge were also under the radar of the spyware.