The request for a special investigation into the Pegasus scandal involving allegations that opposition politicians, journalists and others were targets of Israeli spyware, will be taken up next week, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana said today.
Senior journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar had sought a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by a sitting of former judge into the snooping allegations. Their lawyer Kapil Sibal requested the Chief Justice to list the petition, saying it has “huge ramifications on freedom and liberty”. Journalists, opposition leaders and judges were on the list of potential targets, Mr Sibal told the Chief Justice.
Justice Ramana said: “We will list it next week and it depends on the workload”.
The petition says a global media investigation involving several leading publications has revealed that more than 142 persons in India were identified as potential targets for surveillance using Israeli firm NSO’s Pegasus spyware, which is sold only to governments.
These included opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi, two union ministers and 40 journalists among others.
Mr Ram and Sashi Kumar’s petition says the Supreme Court should direct the government to disclose whether it has obtained a license for the spyware or used it – directly or indirectly – to carry out surveillance of any kind. Questions of liberty and violation of privacy were involved, said the petition.
According to the petitioners, the forensic analysis of several mobile phones belonging to people listed as potential targets by the Security Lab of Amnesty International have confirmed security breaches.
The media organisations, including The Wire, have disclosed that 300 phones from India were revealed to be on the list of potential targets on the leaked database of NSO, which supplies the spyware. It is not established, however, that all the phones were hacked.
The NSO group, which sells Pegasus to governments and government agencies only, says it is not connected to the leaked database of phone numbers. The government has said there is “no substance” in these reports.
Two petitions were filed earlier in the Supreme Court on the same case, one by CPM MP John Brittas and the other by advocate ML Sharma.
Disclaimer: The NSO group, which owns Pegasus, admits this is spyware and is used to hack phones, but says it does business only with governments and government agencies. The Israeli company says it does not corroborate the list of potential targets reported by media companies around the world. The Indian government has said there is “no substance” to the reports of Pegasus being used by it against opposition leaders, journalists and others. NDTV cannot independently verify the authenticity of the list of those who were supposedly targeted.