Rajya Sabha MP from Kerala John Brittas has moved the Supreme Court seeking a court-monitored investigation in the alleged snooping of ministers, opposition leaders, journalists and activists in India by the Israeli spyware Pegasus. Brittas, in his public interest litigation (PIL), has said that despite the “very serious nature of the allegations,” the Union government has not launched a probe but "made only a hopeful hope that the time-tested processes in our country are well-established to ensure that unauthorised surveillance does not occur.”
MPs from the opposition parties raised the Peguaus row in the Indian Parliament. “But the government has neither denied nor admitted the snooping by the spyware," the CPI(M) MP said. Brittas has also said that the allegations lead to two inferences — either snooping was done by the Indian government or by a foreign agency.
Brittas expressed concern that the list of those who were potential targets of Pegasus in India includes opposition politicians, journalists, a former Election Commissioner, and the staffer of the former Supreme Court judge accused of sexual harassment. “As the interceptions are said to be done in the gadgets of judges and Supreme Court staffer, there is a strong interference with the administration of justice. This is unprecedented and shocking to the conscience of the judicial system. The aspect of interception in the phones of former Election Commission member shows that fundamentals of democracy and free and fair elections are also shaken,” Brittas said in a statement.
“If Pegasus spyware was used in an unauthorised manner, that is in violation of fundamental rights under Articles 19(1)(a) and 21 and also as a slap on the face of the right to privacy upheld by this Honourable Court in the (2017) Puttaswamy case. There is also violation of the provisions of IT Act and the Indian Telegraph Act, for which strict penal action needs to be taken after an immediate, independent and transparent investigation,” Brittas said.
If the alleged snooping was carried out by some foreign agency, then that is an act of external aggression and needs to be dealt with in a serious manner, Brittas pointed out.
This is the second plea filed in the Supreme Court seeking a probe into the Pegasus snooping scandal. Earlier, senior advocate ML Sharma, known for filing PILs in sensational cases, moved the apex court seeking an investigation in the Pegasus row.
The massive political row erupted in India after an investigation published by a consortium claimed that Pegasus spyware was used to conduct surveillance on 300 Indians, including ministers, political leaders, government officials and journalists. An investigation, led by Amnesty International and Paris-based non-profit Forbidden Stories, found that over 50,000 numbers were targeted globally by Pegasus.
The Union government has dismissed reports, with Union IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw making a statement in Parliament, asking why the reports were released a day before the Monsoon Session of Parliament and calling them an ‘attempt to malign Indian democracy.’
The NSO, the company that owns the technology, has also "clearly rubbished the claims in the report", the IT Minister had said. The NSO had said that the list of countries shown using Pegasus in the report was incorrect and many countries mentioned were not even the clients of the company, as per the minister's statement to the Lok Sabha on July 19.