SC adjourns hearing in pleas seeking inquiry into Pegasus snooping row to Sept 13

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New Delhi [India], September 7 (ANI): The Supreme Court on Tuesday adjourned the hearing in petitions seeking a court-monitored probe into the reports of the government allegedly using Israeli software Pegasus to spy on politicians, activists and journalists to September 13.

A Bench headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana adjourned the matter for Monday after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for Centre asked for an adjournment.

Mehta sought few more days to get instructions on whether the government wanted to file any further affidavit in the matter.

At the outset, Solicitor General Mehta told the Bench, "On the last occasion Court had inquired if we would like to file a further affidavit. For some reason, some officers were not there, I could not meet, etc. It could not be found out."

The Centre had on last hearing said that it does not want to file an additional affidavit in the Pegasus issue, as national security aspects are involved.

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

The apex court had said that it will decide what to do in future including whether the government 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 the interception in the interest of national security can't 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 earlier during the hearing argued that several kinds of softwares are used by the 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 an 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 the 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 as many as 11 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 the 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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