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Home » Opinion » On Pegasus, Real Victory Would Be If Spying Doesn’t Happen Again

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On Pegasus, Real Victory Would Be If Spying Doesn’t Happen Again

In view of laudatory words for it by the SC, onus now on panel to meet the expectations of the apex court and the public.

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. (Source: Pixabay)

The measure of the independence of any independent non-governmental institution such as the Supreme Court of India is how it stands up to bullying by the government, especially a numerically-strong government.

Yesterday’s judgment by a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice of India NA Ramana and comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, setting up a “technical committee” headed by former Supreme Court judge RV Raveendran to probe the allegations that Pegasus spyware was illegally installed in phones of Indian citizens, underscores the fact that, when it wants, the Supreme Court can show its muscular side.

The terms of reference of the Committee include finding answers to whether a government agency (mis)used Pegasus software against Indian citizens and under what law and/or if a government of India agency or a state government agency acquired the controversial software from the Israeli manufacturer, which, incidentally, claims that it sells the software only to a government entity.

While all concerned citizens must look forward to the report of the Supreme Court-established committee, there is every possibility that going by the recent course adopted by the Union of India in refusing to come clean despite repeated queries by the Supreme Court bench during multiple hearings, the Centre will fail (refuse) to offer any worthwhile assistance by way of relevant information to the committee.

My bet is that despite the fact that the Supreme Court refused to pay much heed to the Centre’s repeated use of the phrase “National Interest,” this would be put to use once the committee starts asking the relevant questions from the government. The government and its officers could still try and stonewall the efforts of the Committee by coming up with excuses to deny or delay sharing of information and resources.

But it is the second operative part of the 46-page judgment, Paragraph 61-B, which should be the one engaging our attention and could lead to some crucial and welcome changes in checking intrusion – both legal and illegal – by the government and its agencies of the citizens’ privacy.

The mandate of the committee includes revisiting the existing laws and procedures surrounding surveillance and how to improve “prevention of invasion of citizens’ right to privacy.” It will also have the opportunity to suggest a mechanism that would allow citizens to “raise grievances on suspicion of illegal surveillance of their devices” as well as suggest setting up of a “well-­equipped, independent   premier agency to investigate cyber security vulnerabilities, for threat assessment relating to cyberattacks and to investigate instances of cyberattacks in the country.”

If the panel does a half-decent job of finding workable and effective solutions to these issues, it would have done its job well.  

While performing their job, the committee members would do well to remember the high praise about their independence and integrity which finds mention in the Supreme Court judgement.

“At this juncture, it would be appropriate to state that in this world of conflicts, it was an extremely uphill task to find and select experts who are free from prejudices, are independent and competent. Rather than relying upon any government agencies, we have constituted the Committee and shortlisted expert members based on bio data and information collected independently… With our best intentions and efforts, we have shortlisted and chosen the most renowned experts available to be part of the Committee,” the judgment reads.

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More importantly, since, as per the bench, “some of the candidates politely declined this assignment”, it is clear that the committee members whose names appear in the Supreme Court judgment understand well the enormity of the task that awaits them. And that the eyes of an entire nation will be on them and every citizen will eagerly await what they deliver.

On January 12, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by then Chief Justice of India SA Bobde passed an interim order, setting up a committee of experts – most of them known for their pro-government stance, on the three Farm Laws. After most of the farmers’ associations that had been protesting against the farm laws refused to associate with the committee in light of the lack of faith in the members, the entire exercise proved to be still-born. While the committee did submit some kind of report, the same has not been made public so far. One reason behind the apparent reluctance of the Supreme Court on this front could be the fact that very few had any faith in the committee doing its work with an independent mind.

On Pegasus, the Supreme Court has done a much better job while selecting the members of the panel. But it is now for the members to justify that the faith of the highest court of the land in their integrity and independence isn’t misplaced.  

Maneesh Chhibber is a Contributing Editor with India Ahead News. The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author.

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