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Pegasus Probe: What Is SC-Appointed Committee Supposed To Look Into?

Here's what the scope of the Pegasus probe is going to be and what the Supreme Court has asked the committee for.

Updated
Law
3 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>The Supreme Court has set up a Technical Committee to inquire into the alleged Pegasus snooping row.</p></div>
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In an extremely significant order, the Supreme Court on Wednesday, 27 October, created a special Technical Committee to probe allegations regarding the use of Pegasus spyware against Indian citizens.

The bench headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana criticised the Union government for its refusal to clarify whether it had purchased and used the spyware, and said it had to accept the prima facie case of the petitioners, including victims of Pegasus hacking, and examine their allegations.

The Technical Committee will be overseen by former apex court judge Justice RV Raveendran, and has been asked to prepare a report after a thorough inquiry and submit it to the Supreme Court "expeditiously".

The members of the Technical Committee are:

  1. Dr Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, Professor (Cyber Security and Digital Forensics) and Dean, National Forensic Sciences University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat.

  2. Dr Prabaharan P, Professor (School of Engineering), Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Amritapuri, Kerala.

  3. Dr Ashwin Anil Gumaste, Institute Chair Associate Professor (Computer Science and Engineering), Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Maharashtra

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But what exactly is the committee supposed to look into? What kind of probe has the Supreme Court ordered? And what is their report to the Supreme Court supposed to cover?

Here's what the Supreme Court's order says.

Scope of Probe

The terms of reference for the Technical Committee say that it is to "enquire, investigate and determine":

  1. Whether the 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?

  2. The details of the victims and/or persons affected by such a spyware attack.

  3. What steps/actions have been taken by the Centre after reports were published in 2019 about hacking of WhatsApp accounts of Indian citizens, using Pegasus spyware.

  4. Whether any Pegasus suite of spyware was acquired by the Centre, or any state Government, or any central or state agency for use against the citizens of India?

  5. 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 a deployment made?

  6. If any domestic entity/person has used the spyware on the citizens of this country, then is such an use authorised?

  7. Any other matter or aspect which may be connected, ancillary or incidental to the above terms of reference, which the committee may deem fit and proper to investigate.

To be able to do this, the committee has been authorised to devise its own procedure and take statements of "any person in connection with the enquiry and call for the records of any authority or individual."

Justice Raveendran will be assisted by former Indian Police Service (IPS) and Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) officer Alok Joshi as well as Dr Sundeep Oberoi, and has also been authorised to take the assistance of any retired officers or experts needed for the probe.

Recommendations To Be Provided to Supreme Court

The Technical Committee has been instructed to provide recommendations to the Supreme Court, following its enquiry, on a number of questions, including ways to improve both privacy and cyber security protections.

Interestingly, the court has asked for recommendations on setting up a mechanism for citizens to raise grievances about illegal surveillance, including an interim mechanism by the court till Parliament enacts a law for the same.

The full set of recommendations asked for are:

  1. Regarding enactment or amendment to existing law and procedures surrounding surveillance and for securing improved right to privacy.

  2. Regarding enhancing and improving cybersecurity of the nation and its assets.

  3. 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.

  4. Regarding the establishment of a mechanism for citizens to raise grievances on suspicion of illegal surveillance of their devices.

  5. Regarding the setting up of a well­-equipped independent premier agency to investigate cybersecurity vulnerabilities, for threat assessment relating to cyberattacks and to investigate instances of cyberattacks in the country.

  6. Regarding any ad-­hoc arrangement that may be made by the Supreme Court as an interim measure for the protection of citizens' rights, pending filling up of lacunae by the Parliament.

  7. On any other ancillary matter that the committee may deem fit and proper.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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