The government today said it has “nothing to hide from the court” while the Supreme Court was hearing petitions seeking a thorough investigation into the Pegasus spyware scandal. The court, issuing notice to the centre, said the government should reply on allegations that the Israeli spyware was used on individual phones, adding it will decide on forming a committee to investigate the allegations only after getting the centre’s response.
“We do not want national security to be compromised, but the phones of individuals were attacked as per their claims. Only a competent authority can respond on that,” Justice Surya Kant said.
The Supreme Court agreed with the government’s top lawyer Tushar Mehta that it will not ask to disclose sensitive information to the public.
“…We don’t want to compromise with security of nation or interfere with Defence Ministry protocols. We will not ask you to disclose… But the issue is simple. Individuals here are submitting that interception of their phones happened and this can be done by permission of competent authority. So what is the problem with the competent authority to file an affidavit before us, without compromising national security and defence issues?” the Supreme Court said.
Mr Mehta had argued against putting out facts of the Pegasus case in the public domain citing national security.
“All petitions ask for one thing – Supreme Court inquiry. Yesterday, they asked that they just want the government to answer whether Pegasus was used. This software is purchased by all countries. But which software was used or not is never divulged by any country for national security reasons,” Mr Mehta said.
“We have nothing to hide from the court. We will place everything before the court mandated committee that will be set up. But it cannot be put out into public through affidavits. Tomorrow, web portals will say military resources were used illegally. Let us have a committee and we will place all information before it,” Mr Mehta said.
Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Editors Guild of India and journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar, said, “We also don’t want national security to be compromised, just want the government to answer whether it used Pegasus or not.”
The matter will be heard again after 10 days.
The Pegasus allegations dominated an acrimonious standoff between the government and the opposition that led to multiple disruptions and chaos in the monsoon session of parliament.
A media consortium, including The Wire, has disclosed that 300 phones from India were revealed to be on the list of potential targets on the leaked database of Israeli spyware firm NSO, which supplies the Pegasus spyware. It is not established, however, that all the phones were hacked.