Petition filed by the senior journalists is listed along with separate petitions on the same issue filed by Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas and Supreme Court advocate M.L. Sharma.
A Supreme Court Bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana will on August 5 hear a petition filed by senior journalists N. Ram and Sashi Kumar for an independent probe headed by a former or sitting top court judge into the mass surveillance of over 142 potential “targets”, including journalists, lawyers, ministers, Opposition politicians, constitutional functionaries and civil society activists, using military-grade Israeli spyware Pegasus.
The Chief Justice will have Justice Surya Kant accompanying him on the Bench.
Explained | Pegasus and the laws on surveillance in India
The Supreme Court causelist for August 5, released on July 31, 2021, showed the petition filed by Mr. Ram and Mr. Kumar listed along with separate petitions on the same issue filed by Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas and Supreme Court advocate M.L. Sharma.
The senior journalists’ petition was mentioned by senior advocate Kapil Sibal before a Bench headed by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana on July 30. The CJI had agreed to list the case next week.
Mr. Sibal had pleaded urgency in hearing as the petition concerned issues affecting the fundamental rights, civil liberties of citizens and even national security. He said the issue was making waves not only in India but globally.
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“Such mass surveillance using a military-grade spyware abridges several fundamental rights and appears to represent an attempt to infiltrate, attack and destabilise independent institutions that act as critical pillars of our democratic set-up,” the petition has said.
It has sought a full disclosure from the government on whether it had authorised the snooping, which seems be an attempt to muzzle free speech and to chill dissent. The government, the petition said, had still not given a straight answer to whether the illegal hack was done with its blessings.
The journalists have contended that spying has caused serious dents on the rights to free speech and privacy. It has no legal basis. In fact, the legal regime for surveillance under Section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act seems to have been completely bypassed. Civilians have become targets.
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The Pegasus software, manufactured by Israeli cyber-arms firm NSO Group Technologies Limited, is “extremely advanced and capable of infecting a mobile phone/device without any interaction with the owner (also known as a zero-click attack)”.
“It can conduct extremely intrusive surveillance, including tracking and recording calls, reading text and WhatsApp messages, collecting passwords, reading emails, accessing photos and videos, activating camera and microphone and enabling them to record events, and harvesting information from apps. It can be installed as simply as by placing a call on the targeted device, even if the call is not picked up,” the petition has submitted.