Pegasus snooping row: Citing national security Centre tells SC it does not wish to file additional affidavit

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Supreme Court of India
Supreme Court of India

New Delhi [India], September 13 (ANI): The Central government on Monday told the Supreme Court that it does not wish to file a detailed affidavit regarding the Pegasus snooping row, citing that it was concerned over national security.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the Centre told a Bench, headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana that the issue cannot be made a subject matter of "judicial debate or public discourse" and hence cannot be stated in an affidavit.

Whether a particular software was used or not is not a matter for public domain, Mehta told the apex court today while saying the government does not want to file additional affidavit.

The government had asked for time to decide on filing the affidavit twice.

Mehta said the matter can be inquired into by a committee of independent domain experts and the report can be filed before top court.

"Having examined the issue, it is the stand of the government that such issues can't be a debate on affidavit. Such matters can't be a subject matter of debate before the court. Nonetheless, the issue is important so the committee will go into it," Mehta said.

The Bench said it is not interested in knowing national security aspects.

"We are not interested in knowing matters related to security or defence. We are only concerned to know whether the government has used any method other than admissible under law," the Bench told SG.

Meanwhile, the apex court said it will pass interim order on pleas seeking independent probe into alleged Pegasus snooping row.

The Bench asked the SG Mehta to mention Pegasus case before it if it re-thinks on filing fresh affidavit as passing of interim order will take two to three days.

On September 7, the Bench had granted more time to the Centre to decide on filing additional affidavit in the case after Solicitor General said he could not meet the officials concerned to take a decision on the filing of the second affidavit.

The Bench was hearing a batch of petitions seeking court-monitored probe into the reports of the government allegedly using Israeli software Pegasus to spy on politicians, activists, and journalists.

Earlier, the Centre had maintained that it does not want to file any additional affidavit in the Pegasus issue as national security aspects are involved.

Last month, the top court had issued notice to the Centre and asked it to respond on a batch of petitions seeking the court-monitored probe into the issue.

The apex court had said that it will decide what to do in future including whether govermment request for permission to set up a committee of independent experts to examine all aspects should be allowed.

The Centre had maintained that what software was used for interception in the interest of national security can not be open for public debate.

The Centre had also contended that it is willing to place the details of surveillance before the expert committee proposed to be constituted by it to examine the issues and the committee can give a report to the Supreme Court.

Mehta had on earlier hearing argued that several kinds of software are used by government and military to check anti-national and terrorist activities. "No government will make public what software it is using to allow terror networks to modulate its systems and escape tracking," he had added.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal appearing for petitioners senior journalists N Ram and Shashi Kumar had said that the security of the state is as important to us as to the government. "Our intention is to not have security details but it must reply whether Pegasus as a technology was used or not," Sibal had said.

On not filing additional affidavit, Mehta had said that if the government is disclosing in public that it is not using a particular interception software, the terrorist organisations will take advantage of that information to change their communication settings.

Solicitor General had said that such matters cannot be placed in an affidavit and be made a matter of public debate. "Suppose the government says it is not using Pegasus, the terrorist organisation will reset their communications to make them not Pegasus compatible", Solicitor General had told top court.

The apex court had then said that it does not want to compel the government to disclose any information or to compromise national security, but only want information regarding authorisation for alleged interception of the phones of civilians.

Before that the Central government had filed an affidavit and apprised the top court that it has decided to constitute a Committee of Experts, which will examine all the issues relating to the alleged Pegasus snooping issue.

The Centre had also denied all the allegations of snooping and maintained the petitions are based on conjectures and there is no substance in the accusations.

The petitioners' lawyers had repeatedly told the Bench that the Central government has evaded answering the question if it or any of its agencies have ever used the Pegasus spyware and urged the Court to direct the government to come clean on this issue.

There are many pleas filed before the top court by senior journalists N Ram, and Sashi Kumar, Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas of Communist Marxist Party of India (Marxist) and advocate ML Sharma, former Union minister Yashwant Sinha, RSS ideologue KN Govindacharya.

Journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, SNM Abdi, Prem Shankar Jha, Rupesh Kumar Singh and Ipsa Shatakshi, who are reported to be on the potential list of snoop targets of Pegasus spyware, had also approached the top court along with The Editors Guild of India (EGI) among others.

The pleas sought inquiry headed by a sitting or retired judge of top court to investigate the alleged snooping.

The plea said that the targeted surveillance using military-grade spyware is an unacceptable violation of the right to privacy, which has been held to be a fundamental right under Articles 14, 19 and 21 by the Supreme Court in the KS Puttaswamy case. (ANI)

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