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Supreme Court on Pegasus case

Context:

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana passed an order in the Pegasus snooping case related to the recent allegations of the Government using Pegasus software to spy on citizens.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance (Constitutional Provisions, Fundamental Rights, Important Judgements), GS-III: Internal Security Challenges (Basics of Cyber Security; Role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges; Internal security challenges through communication networks)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. The Pegasus Project and how dangerously compromising it is.
  2. Spyware and types of Cyber Attacks
  3. Pegasus Attacks in the past and in India
  4. History of Government’s surveillance issues
  5. Legislations on Surveillance
  6. K.S. Puttaswamy judgment, 2017 regarding Surveillance
  7. Various recommendations in the past regarding Surveillance
  8. SC forms committee to examine Pegasus allegations
  9. SC on Pegasus row and Privacy of Citizens
  10. SC on Pegasus row and Freedom of Press
  11. SC on Pegasus row and the petitions filed
  12. SC on Pegasus row and the ‘national security’ reason

Click Here to read about: The Pegasus Project and how dangerously compromising it is; Spyware and types of Cyber Attacks; Pegasus Attacks in the past and in India; History of Government’s surveillance issues; Legislations on Surveillance; K.S. Puttaswamy judgment, 2017 regarding Surveillance; Various recommendations in the past regarding Surveillance.

Click Here to read about: Cyber Attack and Cyber Security; Challenges of Cyber Security in India; Measures taken by the government to improve the Cyber Security

SC forms committee to examine Pegasus allegations

  • The Supreme Court appointed an independent expert technical committee overseen by a former apex court judge, Justice R.V. Raveendran, to examine allegations that the government used an Israeli spyware, Pegasus, to snoop on its own citizens.
  • Justice Raveendran would oversee the functioning of the technical committee and would be assisted by Alok Joshi, former IPS officer (1976 batch) and Dr. Sundeep Oberoi, Chairman, Sub Committee in (International Organisation of Standardisation/International Electro-Technical Commission/Joint Technical Committee).

Directives given to the committee by the SC

  • The SC directed the committee not to just inquire into recent allegations of the Government using Pegasus to snoop, but travel back the trail to reports of the Israeli spyware being used to hack social media accounts of private citizens in 2019.
  • The court also wanted the committee to use its expertise to test the existing surveillance laws and procedures to see how much they valued and protected citizens’ privacy.
  • The court said the committee should come up with recommendations to prevent state and non-state players from invading the fundamental right of privacy of citizens through illegal surveillance mounted on them.
  • The SC asked the committee to suggest a “mechanism” for citizens to raise grievances on “suspicion of illegal surveillance of their devices”.
  • The court also pushed for suggestions from the committee for the setting up of a “well-equipped independent premier agency to investigate cybersecurity vulnerabilities”.
  • The Supreme Court’s seven-point “terms of reference” not only seems to deal with the recent trigger for the Pegasus controversy, but dives deep into the first public signs of the alleged use of the military grade spyware years ago.

SC on Pegasus row and Privacy of Citizens

  • Chief Justice Ramana read out that every citizen has a “reasonable right to privacy,choices, liberties and freedom”.
  • The court said the state uses surveillance but the power to spy should not affect individual rights.
  • Technology is useful, but it cannot be used to take away freedoms or launch a cyberattack on privacy.
  • The necessity to trespass on individual privacy should be proportional.
  • It is undeniable that surveillance and the knowledge that one is under the threat of being spied on can affect the way an individual decides to exercise his or her rights. Such a scenario might result in self-censorship.
  • Indiscriminate spying on individuals by the state is not allowed in a democracy, the use of technology for surveillance by the State must be evidence-based, the court said.

SC on Pegasus row and Freedom of Press

  • One of the petitioners, the Editors Guild of India, had sought an independent probe into the government’s alleged role in the Pegasus controversy.
  • The Guild had pointed out that freedom of press is a hard-won right essential to democracy.
  • The Supreme Court expressed particular concern about the protection of journalistic freedom. It said the State should not create an atmosphere that has a “chilling effect” on the freedom of the press.
  • The court said a democratic society values the importance of protecting a source. That is part of press freedom.

SC on Pegasus row and the petitions filed

  • In the Pegasus order, the court reminded the Government that the petitioners do not contend that the State should not resort to surveillance/collection of data in matters of national security. The complaint of the petitioners is about the misuse or likely misuse of spyware in violation of the right to privacy of citizens.
  • The petitions had alleged that questions and attempts to garner the truth from the government had reached a dead-end
  • The court took special care to highlight in its order about how the government refused to take a “clear stand” in court on whether the allegations were true or not. There was no specific denial of the allegations by the Union of India.

SC on Pegasus row and the ‘national security’ reason

  • The Solicitor General had refused the court’s repeated advice to file a detailed affidavit responding to the snooping allegations, blankly saying “the disclosure of certain facts might affect the national security and defence of the nation”.
  • The SC said that the State cannot keep a secret from the court merely on the bogey of ‘national security’ and expect the judiciary to remain a “mute spectator”.
  • The claim has to be backed by evidence to prove that the disclosure of the information sought by the court would affect national security concerns.
  • The court accepted that judicial review in national security matters was limited.

-Source: The Hindu

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September 2022
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