New Delhi: Unimpressed by the Centre’s insistence that it would disclose whether or not it used the Pegasus spyware for snooping only to a technical committee of experts — neutral and independent of the government — and not divulge in the public domain by putting it on an affidavit, the Supreme Court on Tuesday sought a reply from the government on a batch of petitions seeking a probe into the snooping of the mobile phones of journalists, politicians, eminent people and some judges of the country’s highest court.
Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, heading a bench that also comprised Justices Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose, issued the notice as solicitor general Tushar Mehta said: “The expert committee can examine the facts and give a report to the court. But we cannot divulge (in the public domain) details concerning the security of the country.”
Issuing the notice and ordering the listing of the matter after two weeks, the court said it was not asking for the disclosure of anything that may compromise the nation’s security, but the competent authority may file an affidavit saying what it can.
The court said that no one, including the petitioners, will seek anything that may compromise the national security.
Mehta said even the disclosure whether or not the Pegasus spyware was being used by the security agencies, including the defence ministry, could be detrimental to national security as terrorist groups or enemy forces could modulate their next attack to escape tracking.
Telling the court that several kinds of devices were being used by the government, its agencies and the defence forces to track and check anti-national and terrorists’ activities, Mehta said: “No government will make public what software it is using to allow terror networks to modulate its systems and escape tracking.”
As the Centre insisted that whatever it had to say it would say before a technical committee of experts, which in turn would submit its report to the court, the solicitor general, in a fruitless attempt to persuade the court, said: “I am not saying that we don’t want to file an affidavit but will do so before a technical committee of experts.”
As Mehta refrained from confirming or denying whether the Pegasus spyware was used, citing national security concerns, senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, appearing for some eminent media persons who had filed the petitions, said that a citizen was as concerned about national security as the state was.
The Supreme Court is hearing a batch of petitions seeking a probe into the Pegasus spyware snooping.
The PIL petitioners include former finance minister Yashwant Sinha, eminent media persons
N. Ram, Sashi Kumar (founder of Asianet), Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, S.N.M. Abdi, Prem Shankar Jha, Rupesh Kumar Singh and Ipsa Shatakshi, as well as the Editors Guild of India, Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas and lawyer M.L. Sharma.