A fresh plea was filed in the Supreme Court (SC) on Sunday, 30 January, on the Indian government's alleged use of Israeli spyware Pegasus. It wants the court to take into account a New York Times report on the matter and order a probe into India's defence deal with Israel in 2017.
India had allegedly bought Pegasus from Israel in 2017, as a part of a $2 billion defence deal, NYT had reported.
Advocate ML Sharma, one of the original petitioners in the case, filed the plea saying that the deal was not approved by Parliament, and hence, needed to be scrapped and the money should be recovered.
Sharma moved the apex court asking it to issue directions to register a criminal case in the matter and investigate the contentious spyware.
The report led to a weighty controversy, with the Opposition lambasting the Narendra Modi government and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi alleging that the government had carried out illegal snooping, which was equivalent to "treason."
On 27 October 2021, the SC had ordered a probe into the alleged use of Pegasus for spying on certain Indian citizens, by appointing a three-member panel.
The court had noted that the state would not get a "free pass" each time a threat to national security was raised and would not be the "bugbear" that the judiciary shies away from.
What Did the NYT Report Claim?
The New York Times report mentions that for almost a decade, an Israeli firm NSO Group had been "selling its surveillance software on a subscription basis to law-enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world, promising that it could do what no one else – not a private company, not even a state intelligence service – could do: consistently and reliably crack the encrypted communications of any iPhone or Android smartphone."
The report further states that India's purchase of the spyware was part of a "package of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly $2 billion" between the Indian and the Israeli governments.
Editors Guild of India Reacts
The press statement in light of the NYT report, issued by The Editors Guild of India on Sunday, reads, "The Guild has written to the committee headed by Justice Raveendran, which was instituted by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India to inquire into and investigate the use of Pegasus spyware against Indian citizens, to take cognisance of the claims made in these reports, and seek responses on affidavit from the Government of India, the CAG, as well as the Secretaries of all the possible ministries that may have been involved with claimed purchase of the spyware."
The statement also said that the claims made by NYT are in stark contrast to the stance taken by the Indian government so far "which has been and continues to be vague and non committal in its response to these extremely serious allegations that whether they purchased the spyware, and more disturbingly, if it was used against Indian citizens, including journalists and civil society members."
The Editors Guild of India, on Sunday, said that the SC-appointed panel for this probe should investigate these claims made by the report. They also urged that the panel to look into whether the spyware had been used against Indian citizens.
Action by the Court
The Supreme Court, on Saturday, had appointed a panel to investigate the claims made by NYT. Justice RV Raveendran will supervise the functioning of the panel on cybersecurity, networks, digital forensics, and hardware.
The apex court noted that former IPS officer Alok Joshi and Sundeep Oberoi, chairman, subcommittee in International Organisation of Standardisation/International Electro-Technical Commission/Joint Technical Committee, would assist the judge to oversee the undertaking.
(With inputs from PTI.)