Petition in SC for court-monitored probe into Pegasus scandal

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Terming the Pegasus spying scandal a “serious attack” on Indian democracy, the judiciary and on the security of the country, a petition has been filed by a lawyer in the Supreme Court demanding a court-monitored investigation by a special investigation team (SIT) to identify those responsible for snooping on opposition leaders, activists, journalists and judges among a host of other persons.

The petition filed by advocate Manohar Lal Sharma said, “The Pegasus scandal is a matter of grave concern and a serious attack upon Indian democracy, judiciary and country security. The widespread and unaccountable use of surveillance is morally disfiguring.” It is yet to be admitted.

The petition has named Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a respondent along with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) without making the Union of India as a party. Sharma earlier approached the CBI for registering a first information report (FIR) into allegations of Pegasus spying but this was not done, the petition stated.

Sharma, who is known for being the first to file petitions on major issues, made a two-fold demand to the top court. He sought a probe by a SIT under the supervision of the top court into the revelations and prosecute all accused persons who bought the Pegasus software and allegedly snooped on Indian citizens for criminal breach of trust (IPC Sections 408, 409), criminal conspiracy (IPC Section 120B), read with Section 3 of the Official Secrets Act 1923 (penalty for spying) and relevant provisions under the Information Technology Act 2000.

Sharma, a serial petitioner has been previously reprimanded and fined by the court by the petitions, some of which have been dismissed in minutes.

He further requested the top court to declare buying of Pegasus software for snooping to be “illegal” and violative of a person’s right to life and privacy protected under Article 21 and said, “Buying of Pegasus software without approval (of Parliament) contra to the Art. 266(3), 267(2) and 283(2) of the Constitution is a criminal breach of trust and also attracts Sections 408, 409 and 120-B of IPC.”

Articles 266(3), 267(2), 283(2) provide that any amount to be spent or withdrawn out of the Consolidated Fund of India or the Contingency Fund maintained by states should be in accordance with law.

The breach of privacy using Pegasus software engaged the attention of the Supreme Court in December 2019, almost a month after the names of 121 Indians whose phones were allegedly hacked using this software surfaced. The matter was brought to court by former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak KN Govindacharya.

A three-judge bench headed by then Chief Justice of India SA Bobde refused to go into the issue and allowed the petition to be withdrawn at the very first hearing on December 2, 2019. The petition sought a direction for a court-monitored probe by either National Investigation Agency or a special investigation team against WhatsApp, Facebook and NSO Group for violating right to privacy of Indian citizens. The petition even sought perjury proceedings to be initiated against WhatsApp for misleading the top court with its claim that the data of its users was fully encrypted and nobody, including WhatsApp, held the key to access it.

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