New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday is set to hear the pleas, including those filed by senior journalists Sashi Kumar and N Ram, who have demanded for a through independent probe by a sitting or a retired judge into the alleged Pegasus snooping matter.
As per the cause list uploaded on the apex court website, a bench comprising Justice Surya Kant and Chief Justice N V Ramana will be hearing the three separate petitions seeking probe into the alleged snooping by government agencies on eminent politicians, citizens and scribes with the help of Israeli spyware Pegasus.
Back on July 30, the top court had stated it would hear next week the plea filed by Kumar and Ram in the matter.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who will be appearing for the senior journalists, had informed the court last week that the plea needed an hearing quickly in view of its wide ramifications.
As per the plea, the alleged snooping with the help of the Pegasus Spyware represented an attempt by organisations and agencies to muzzle the exercise of free speech and expression of dissent in the country.
The above-mentioned petition also seeks a direction to the central government to disclose if it is or any of its agencies obtained licence for Pegasus spyware and had used it, either directly or indirectly, to conduct any surveillance in manner.
The petitioners have claimed that investigations involving several leading publications around the world have revealed that several Indians, including journalists, lawyers, ministers, opposition politicians and activists, have been identified as potential targets for surveillance using the Pegasus software.
Besides the plea filed by Ram and Kumar, two separate petitions on the issue have been filed in the apex court by advocate M L Sharma and John Brittas.
In his plea, Sharma has sought a court-monitored probe by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the reports of alleged snooping.
An international media consortium has reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on a list of potential targets for surveillance using Israeli firm NSO’s Pegasus spyware.
The targeted surveillance using military-grade spyware is an unacceptable violation of the right to privacy which has been held to be a fundamental right under Articles 14 (equality before the law), 19 (freedom of speech and expression) and 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) by the Supreme Court, said the plea, filed by the two journalists.
The hacking of phones belonging to journalists, doctors, lawyers, activists, ministers and opposition politicians seriously compromises the effective exercise of the fundamental right to free speech and expression, it said.
Such an act has an obvious chilling effect on expression by threatening invasion into the most core and private aspects of a person’s life, it added.
According to the petition, hacking of phones using the Pegasus spyware constituted a criminal offence punishable under Sections 66 (computer related offences), 66B (punishment for dishonestly receiving stolen computer resource or communication device), 66E (punishment for violation of privacy) and 66F (punishment for cyberterrorism) of the IT Act, punishable with imprisonment and/or fine.