Pegasus row: SC asks petitioners to serve pleas to Centre; next hearing on Tuesday

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The Supreme Court on Thursday heard a numbers of petitions seeking an independent probe into Pegasus snooping row and asked the petitioners to serve copies of their pleas to the Centre. The next hearing in the matter will be on Tuesday. While hearing nine separate pleas, including those filed by Editors’ Guild of India and senior journalist N Ram and Sashi Kumar on the issue, a SC bench comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justice Surya Kant asked the petitioners why they have not filed a criminal complaint under IT act.

“They are all educated and resourceful people. Why did they not file a criminal complaint under Telegraph Act/Information Technology Act?” the bench asked Kapil Sibal, who is representing some petitioners in the case.

After an hour-long hearing, CJI N V Ramana and Justice Surya Kant said there has to be some representation from the Centre to place its point of view and accept notice if it is issued.
No law officer from the government appeared in the matter despite some of the petitioners having already served advance copy of their petitions to the central agency.

The apex court said the allegations are serious if media reports about the incident are correct.

The Supreme Court also said it is surprising that Pegasus issue came to light in 2019 and no one made any “serious attempt” to collect verifiable material about snooping. Most PILs are based on newspaper clippings of national and international media, it said.
CJI N V Ramana said question remains why a flurry of petitions are being filed two years after the incident coming to light, referring to a 2019 report in which WhatsApp claimed that Israeli spyware Pegasus was used to snoop on over two dozen academics, lawyers, journalists and Dalit activists in India.
“I can explain. We do not have the access to many materials. The petitions have information about 10 cases of direct infiltration into phones,” Sibal said in his reply.

“It is only the government which can answer this – whether the government bought it, used it and why. This spyware is a big threat to everything we stand for as a Republic,” said Sibal.
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.

Opposition leaders including Rahul Gandhi, two union ministers — Prahlad Singh Patel and Railways and IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw — businessman Anil Ambani, a former CBI chief, and at least 40 journalists are on the list on the leaked database of NSO. It is, however, not established that all the phones were hacked.
The government has been denying all opposition allegations in the matter.

The issue has hampered the functioning of the Parliament in the Monsoon session too, with the opposition hell bent on discussing the matter in the House.

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