The Editors Guild of India has filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court of India, with respect to the media reports on surveillance and hacking of phones of several journalists using the Pegasus software, created and developed by the Israeli company NSO. Senior journalist, Ms Mrinal Pande, is a co-petitioner in this public interest litigation. A press release that contains a link to the redacted version of the petition is signed by the Guild’s office bearers, Seema Mustafa, president, Sanjay Kapoor, general secretary, and, Anant Nath, treasurer.
The Guild has sought the Court’s direction for the setting up of an independent Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate the facts regarding the extent and intent of snooping and to direct the Government of India for furnishing information on the interception, monitoring and decryption of information by using spyware, hacking and/or electronic surveillance in India between 2017 to the present day in 2021. (The petition requests that the government should provide information including details of contracts, list of agencies, details of spyware used, payments made for licenses and purchases, etc.)
The petition also asks the court to issue guidelines for safeguarding journalists from surveillance, and to declare provisions of Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951, as well as of the IT Act, 2000 that allow such surveillance as unconstitutional. The petition includes the following in the initial synopsis of its request to the court:
“The present public interest petition seeks enforcement of the freedom of the press from interference through spying, hacking, and electronic surveillance. The petition also seeks to enforce the right to know on behalf of all citizens of India about the violation of fundamental rights, abuse of power, and commission of criminal offences through use of electronic surveillance, hacking and spyware against Indian citizens. The petition further seeks a fair and impartial investigation by a special investigation team appointed by and under continued monitoring by this Hon’ble Court. Finally, the petition seeks a complete overhaul of the architecture for surveillance by challenging the constitutional vires of Section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, Rule 419A of the Indian Telegraph Rules 1951, Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption) of Information Rules, 2009.”
A redacted copy of the Editors Guild of India petition to the Supreme Court which runs to 89 pages, and contains legal precedents on the issues is available as a Redacted_Petition. The redactions only seem to be of the personal contact details of some of the petitioners.