Tribune News Service
New Delhi, August 5
The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to hear a batch of petitions seeking a court-monitored SIT probe into the Pegasus snooping controversy on August 10 as it asked the petitioners to serve copies of their respective petitions on the Centre.
Interception data not maintained
- The government said it does not maintain records of telephone interceptions under the existing laws
- It regularly destroys records of lawful interceptions, it said in the Rajya Sabha
No prima facie proof on snooping: BJP
- There is no “prima facie” evidence to back allegations that phones were hacked by the government, says BJP
- The exchequer has probably suffered Rs130-cr loss due to Parl logjam, RS Prasad said
A Bench led by CJI NV Ramana said without the Union Government being present in the hearing, it can’t proceed in the matter. The top court said it was surprising that the Pegasus issue came to light in 2019 and no one made any serious attempt to collect verifiable material about the snooping.
An international media consortium had reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus spyware.
“Most PILs are based on newspaper clippings of national and international media,” it noted even as it said, “No doubt that the allegations about Pegasus are serious, if the newspaper reports are correct…Truth has to come out, that’s a different story. We don’t know whose names are there.”
The CJI said, “From what I read, this came to light in 2019. There was no serious concern then. We don’t hold anybody at fault for that. The petitioners are resourceful, educated persons. We can’t say what has been said by reputed journalists is merely hearsay or not believable.”
The court repeatedly asked the petitioners to explain why no FIR or criminal complaint was filed under the relevant provisions of law if they believed the allegations were true.
As it wondered why a number of petitions were being filed two years after the incident came to light, senior counsel Kapil Sibal, representing noted journalist N Ram, said the petitioners came to know about the gravity later.
Terming Pegasus as a “rogue technology which enters our lives without our knowledge,” Sibal said, “Journalists, public figures, constitutional authorities, court officers and academics — all are targeted. The question the government has to answer is: Who purchased it? How much was spent? Where was the hardware placed?”
Senior advocates Arvind Datar, Rakesh Dwivedi, Meenakshi Arand, CU Singh and Shyam Divan — representing various petitioners — demanded an independent probe into the snooping scandal, terming it an invasion of privacy – a fundamental right declared by the court.
The top court was hearing nine petitions, including those filed by the Editors Guild of India and senior journalists N Ram and others, seeking an independent probe into the alleged snooping on eminent citizens, politicians and scribes by using Israeli firm NSO’s spyware Pegasus.
Other petitioners are: advocate ML Sharma, Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas, journalists Rupesh Kumar Singh Singh and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and others.
An international media consortium had reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus spyware. It has also been reported that phones of a former judge of the Supreme Court and its registrars were allegedly intercepted using the spyware. The court pulled up advocate Sharma for filing the petition on the basis of newspaper clippings. “This is not the way of filing a PIL. We also read newspapers,” it said. Meanwhile, Former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha on Thursday filed a petition in the top court seeking an SIT probe into the scandal.
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