Did govt use Pegasus to surveil citizens, who paid for it? Editors Guild moves SC seeking probe


Editors Guild of India
Editors Guild of India

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New Delhi: The Editors Guild of India (EGI) Monday approached the Supreme Court demanding the appointment of a court-monitored special investigation team (SIT) to “investigate every aspect of the use of Pegasus by the Government of India and against Indian citizens, especially journalists”.

The petition also sought information on the interception, monitoring and decryption through spyware, hacking or electronic surveillance in India between 2017 and 2021. It goes on to make seven specific demands on this point, including information on whether the central government or any of its agencies procure, license, obtain and/or use Pegasus; details on how these spywares etc., were paid for; and details of the list of people who have been under such surveillance.

It asserted that “the Government of India has not expressly denied procuring Pegasus spyware, or using it on journalists, and consequently must uncover and furnish all information regarding purchase and use of this malware, and illegal surveillance carried out by the use of this spyware/surveillance tool/hacking”.

The plea comes in the wake of reports by a global consortium of media agencies, including The Wire in India, that claim the Israeli spyware Pegasus was used to target phones of politicians, journalists, activists and civil servants among others world over. While forensic investigations of some mobile phones purportedly showed signs of being hacked, many of the names released by the media agencies are of those believed to have been targeted.

Also read: Indian targets showed up on Pegasus list after Modi’s 2017 Israel visit: Haaretz tech editor

‘Complete overhaul of surveillance architecture’

The Editors Guild’s petition asserted that it seeks a “complete overhaul of the architecture for surveillance”. It therefore challenges the constitutional validity of Section 5(2) (interception of messages) of the Indian Telegraph Act 1885; Rule 419A (who can issue direction of interception and how) of the Indian Telegraph Rules 1951; Section 69 (power to issue directions for interception or monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer source) of the Information Technology Act 2000; and provisions of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption) of Information Rules, 2009.

“The indiscriminate use of these capabilities against journalists and other democratic actors destroys freedom of speech and poisons the heart of democratic accountability,” it said.

In addition, it demanded a direction to the central government to produce the orders authorising the interception, monitoring and decryption of electronic communication devices of Indian citizens under the relevant law, with reasons for issuance of such orders.

It also demanded that guidelines be set up on surveillance against citizens, as well as for safeguarding journalists, and women who work as journalists.

Also read: Suspicious URLs, zero clicks, iMessages — how Amnesty found Pegasus on ‘target’ phones

Several petitions filed

The EGI petition is the latest in a string of petitions to be filed in the Supreme Court on the Pegasus spyware controversy. The first such petition was filed by PIL petitioner advocate M.L. Sharma who also sought a court-monitored probe into the allegations by a SIT.

Another petition was filed by five journalists — Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, S.N.M. Abdi, Prem Shankar Jha, Rupesh Kumar Singh and Ipsa Shataksi — who were on the list of potential targets. They contended that the unauthorised use of surveillance through such sophisticated software will have a “chilling effect” on their fundamental right to freedom of speech and violate their fundamental right to privacy.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana is also set to hear a PIL filed by veteran journalists N. Ram and Sashi Kumar, seeking an independent inquiry headed by a sitting or retired Supreme Court judge to probe the controversy, on 5 August.

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)


Also read: Most voters may not care about Pegasus but data is individual sovereignty too


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