At the Supreme Court hearing on 13 September 2021 to again take up the numerous petitions on using the Israeli NSO Pegasus spyware against Indian citizens, the government again could not provide the affidavit they had sought additional time for delivering.
A bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justice Surya Kant, and Justice Hima Kohli is hearing the case to determine who ordered the expensive malware to be injected into the cellphones journalists and others. The phones were apparently hacked without their permission or knowledge – and any legal process or security concern being voiced.
The government now seems to have changed its mind about filing an affidavit at all. Instead, Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General of India, urged the court to allow the government to form a committee of ‘Domain Experts’ who can look into the allegations that have been filed against them by several citizens, journalists, politicians, and human rights activists. The Solicitor General assured the court that its ‘Domain Experts’ will have no relation with the government so that the experts can check and place their report in front of it.
Several petitioners’ advocates questioned the idea of the domain experts committee submitting a report.
Journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, in whose phone the Amnesty International lab found evidence of the use of Pegasus, represented by senior advocate Dinesh Dwivedi, said, “In one place they say that the allegations are baseless but in other place they say allegations are serious and so they are constituting a committee.”
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves too struck a similar note, “…[W]e cannot rely on the principal wrongdoer to form a committee and do an investigation.”
Supreme Court reserves verdict
The Supreme Court repeated what it had said earlier regarding the affidavit, “We are repeatedly saying that we don’t want things on national security in the public domain. Petitioners have also said. Suppose the committee is formed. Its report will also come in the public domain.”
Justice Kant asked, “The court just wanted to know whether you have violated the privacy of the citizen or not. The surveillance has been done with permission or not. Is there any interception done by other agencies unlawfully or not?”
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for journalists N Ram and Shashi Kumar, said the government not filing the detailed affidavit was “unbelievable.”
“We are reserving and will pass an interim order. It might take 2-3 days to pass the orders,” the bench headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana said after hearing the petitioners and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.