The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the three-member technical committee to probe whether any Pegasus suite of spyware was acquired by the Centre, state government, central and state agency for use against the citizens of the country. If yes, then under what law such deployment was made.
A bench headed by justice N.V. Ramana, giving details of terms of reference of the expert committee, whose functioning will be overseen by retired top court judge R.V. Raveendran, said the committee will investigate whether 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 and/or for any other purposes. The top court asked the committee to find details of the victims affected by the spyware attack and what steps were taken by the Centre after the hacking of WhatsApp accounts surfaced in 2019.
The top court also asked the expert committee 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 spywares”.
The bench also comprising justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli entrusted the panel to make recommendations regarding the setting up of a well-equipped independent premier agency to investigate cyber security vulnerabilities, for threat assessment relating to cyber attacks and to investigate such instances in the country. The top court also asked the committee to suggest the establishment of a mechanism for citizens to raise grievances on suspicion of illegal surveillance of their devices.
The bench tasked the committee to find, “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?”
The bench also tasked the expert panel to make recommendations regarding enactment or amendment to existing law and procedures on surveillance and for securing improved right to privacy. “Regarding any ad hoc arrangement that may be made by this Court as an interim measure for the protection of citizen’s rights, pending filling up of lacunae by the Parliament. On any other ancillary matter that the Committee may deem fit and proper”, said the bench seeking panel’s suggestions.
The top court asked the committee to expeditiously carry out the task assigned and scheduled the matter for further hearing after eight weeks.