SC Pegasus panel seeks public views on legal measures on surveillance, privacy invasion

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The Supreme Court’s Pegasus probe panel has sought public response on enactment or amendment to existing laws and procedures surrounding surveillance, ensuring prevention of invasion of citizens’ right to privacy, establishing a mechanism to raise grievances on suspicion of illegal surveillance etc.

The panel has posed 11 questions and asked for public response by March 31.

The Supreme Court, in its order passed on October 27, 2021, constituted a technical committee under the oversight of Justice R.V. Raveendran (retd) to enquire, investigate, and determine certain matters relating to the complaint of unauthorised use of Pegasus spyware against Indian citizens, in the matter of Manohar Lal Sharma v. Union of India and others.

As part of the terms of reference, the technical committee, in a press release, has been called to make recommendation on a range of issues: Regarding enactment or amendment to existing law and procedures surrounding surveillance and for securing improved right to privacy, and regarding enhancing and improving the cyber security of the nation and its assets.

The committee was also called on to make recommendations to ensure prevention of invasion of citizens’ right to privacy, otherwise than in accordance with law, by state and/or non-state entities through such spyware.

“Regarding the establishment of a mechanism for citizens to raise grievances on suspicion of illegal surveillance of their devices. Regarding the setting up of a well-equipped independent premier agency to investigate cyber security vulnerabilities, for threat assessment relating to cyberattacks and to investigate instances of cyberattacks in the country,” the panel’s press statement said.

The committee was also asked to make recommendations on any ad-hoc arrangement that may be made as an interim measure for the protection of citizen’s rights, pending filling up of lacunae by the Parliament.

“These Terms of Reference are in the context of targeted surveillance/targeted interception (e.g., wiretapping and spying malware like Pegasus) which are directed towards specific persons of interest or specific installations”, said the statement. The online form developed by the committee has posed 11 questions, inviting people to share their views.

For example, a question said: “Whether the existing boundaries of state surveillance of personal and private communication of citizens for the purposes of national security defence of India maintenance of public order and prevention and investigation of offences are well defined and understood? Are there any other purposes for which state surveillance may be justified and necessary?”

The online form also sought response on what substantive and procedural safeguards- involving administrative, judicial or independent authorities would they suggest to adequately balance individual rights with national security and public order interests?

Justice Raveendran is overseeing the functioning of the technical committee and he is assisted by Alok Joshi, a former IPS officer, and Dr Sundeep Oberoi, Chairman, Sub Committee in International Organisation of Standardisation/International Electro-Technical Commission/Joint Technical Committee.

The three members of the technical committee are Dr Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, Professor (Cyber Security and Digital Forensics) and Dean, National Forensic Sciences University, Gandhinagar, Dr Prabaharan P., Professor (School of Engineering), Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Amritapuri, Kerala, and Dr Ashwin Anil Gumaste, Institute Chair, Associate Professor (Computer Science and Engineering), Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.

A batch of petitions including those by advocate M.L. Sharma, CPI-M MP John Brittas, journalist N. Ram, former IIM professor Jagdeep Chokkar, Narendra Mishra, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Rupesh Kumar Singh, S.N.M. Abdi and Editors Guild of India were filed seeking an independent probe into the Pegasus snooping allegations.

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