Veteran journalists N Ram, former Chief Editor of The Hindu, and Sashi Kumar, founder of Asianet and Director of the Asian College of Journalism, have moved the Supreme Court seeking an inquiry headed by a sitting or retired judge of the court into the reports of surveillance using Pegasus spyware, LiveLaw reported on Tuesday, 27 July.
The writ petition also sought a direction to the Union of India to disclose if it or any of its agencies have used the spyware in question either directly or indirectly to conduct any such surveillance.
Reports published by news organisations across the world on 18 July revealed that Israel-made spyware Pegasus was believed to have been used to snoop on at least 300 Indian phone numbers, including those of several journalists, politicians, government officials, and rights activists.
The petitioners have pointed out that several of the phones belonging to the people whose names have appeared in the leaked database have been analysed and found to have been breached using Pegasus.
The petition raised the question of whether targeted surveillance has been conducted on journalists doctors, lawyers, opposition politicians, ministers, constitutional functionaries and civil society activists by illegally hacking into their phones using Pegasus.
It also questioned whether such hacking represented an attempt by agencies and organisation 'to muzzle and chill the exercise of free speech and expression of dissent in India'.
"The Pegasus hack is a direct attack on communicational, intellectual and informational privacy, and critically endangers the meaningful exercise of privacy in these contexts. The right to privacy extends to use and control over one's mobile phone/electronic device and any interception by means of hacking/tapping is an infraction of Article 21. Further, the use of the Pegasus spyware to conduct surveillance represents a grossly disproportionate invasion of the right to privacy," the petition stated, according to LiveLaw.
"The specific targeting of scores of journalists is an attack on the freedom of the press, and seriously abridges the right to know, which is an essential component of the right to free speech and expression," the petition added.
A series of reports has revealed the possibility of snooping operations against several 'potential' targets, including high-profile journalists, political leaders, and ministers.
Multiple reports, published since 18 July, have revealed the names of Rahul Gandhi, Prashant Kishor, Ashok Lavasa, and Union ministers Prahlad Patel and Ashwini Vaishnaw, among those on the leaked list.
The alleged snooping attempts were reportedly carried out using Pegasus, a product of Israeli cyberweapons company NSO Group.
The Indian government, on its part, has denied any role in the snooping operations, slamming the reports.
(With inputs from LiveLaw)
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