- GS-3: Cyber Security and its challenges
- GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Context: A batch of 12 petitions were filed in SC that sought an independent probe into the alleged illegal use of the Israeli NSO Group spyware Pegasus
Recently, Supreme Court ordered a “thorough inquiry” into allegations of unauthorised surveillance using the Pegasus spyware.
The inquiry will be conducted by a three-member technical committee comprising
- Dr Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, Dean of National Forensic Sciences University in Gandhinagar;
- Dr Prabaharan P, Professor at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham in Kerala; and
- Dr Ashwin Anil Gumaste of IIT Bombay.
The functioning of the committee will be overseen by Justice R V Raveendran, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, who will be assisted by two other experts.
Observations by Supreme Court
- The Court acknowledged that it is “a settled position of law that in matters pertaining to national security, the scope of judicial review is limited”. At the same time, SC also noted this does not mean that the State gets a free pass every time the spectre of ‘national security’ is raised.
- SC observed that “The mere invocation of national security by the State does not render the Court a mute spectator”.
- In a democratic country governed by the rule of law, indiscriminate spying on individuals cannot be allowed except with sufficient statutory safeguards, by following the procedure established by law under the Constitution.
- SC said that surveillance and the knowledge that one is under the threat of being spied, might result in self-censorship.
SC listed the compelling circumstances that made it to pass an order constituting an inquiry committee.
- Right to privacy and freedom of speech are alleged to be impacted, which needs to be examined.
- The entire citizenry is affected by such allegations due to the potential chilling effect.
- No clear stand taken by the Union of India regarding actions taken by it.
- Possibility that some foreign authority, agency or private entity is involved in placing citizens of this country under surveillance.
- Allegations that the Union or State Governments are party to the rights’ deprivations of the citizens.
The terms of reference of the committee include:
- Whether the Pegasus suite of spyware was used on phones or other devices of the citizens of India to access stored data, eavesdrop on conversations, intercept information?
- The details of the victims and/or persons affected by such a spyware attack.
- Whether any Pegasus suite of spyware was acquired by Union of India, or any State Government, or any central or state agency for use against the citizens of India?
- If any governmental agency has used the Pegasus suite of spyware on the citizens of this country, under what law, rule, guideline, protocol or lawful procedure was such deployment made?
Connecting the dots: