The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear on August 5 the pleas, including the one filed by senior journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar, who have sought an independent probe by a sitting or a retired judge into the alleged Pegasus snooping matter. According to the cause list uploaded on the apex court website, a bench comprising Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justice Surya Kant would hear on August 5 three separate petitions seeking probe into the reports of alleged snooping by government agencies on eminent citizens, politicians and scribes by using Israeli spyware Pegasus.
On July 30, the top court had said it would hear next week the plea filed by Ram and Kumar in the matter.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the senior journalists, had told the court last week that the plea needed an urgent hearing in view of its wide ramifications.
According to the plea, the alleged snooping represented an attempt by agencies and organisations to muzzle the exercise of free speech and expression of dissent in India.
The petition also seeks a direction to the Centre to disclose if the government or any of its agencies obtained a licence for Pegasus spyware and used it, either directly or indirectly, to conduct surveillance in any manner.
The petitioners have claimed that investigations involving several leading publications around the world have revealed that several Indians, including journalists, lawyers, ministers, opposition politicians and activists, have been identified as potential targets for surveillance using the Pegasus software.
Besides the plea filed by Ram and Kumar, two separate petitions on the issue have been filed in the apex court by advocate ML Sharma and John Brittas.
In his plea, Sharma has sought a court-monitored probe by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the reports of alleged snooping.
An international media consortium has reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on a list of potential targets for surveillance using Israeli firm NSO’s Pegasus spyware.
“The targeted surveillance using military-grade spyware is an unacceptable violation of the right to privacy which has been held to be a fundamental right under Articles 14 (equality before the law), 19 (freedom of speech and expression) and 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) by the Supreme Court,” said the plea, filed by the two journalists.
The hacking of phones belonging to journalists, doctors, lawyers, activists, ministers and opposition politicians “seriously compromises” the effective exercise of the fundamental right to free speech and expression, it said.
Such an act has an obvious chilling effect on expression by threatening invasion into the most core and private aspects of a person’s life, it added.
According to the petition, hacking of phones using the Pegasus spyware constituted a criminal offence punishable under Sections 66 (computer-related offences), 66B (punishment for dishonestly receiving stolen computer resource or communication device), 66E (punishment for violation of privacy) and 66F (punishment for cyberterrorism) of the IT Act, punishable with imprisonment and/or fine.
(With PTI inputs)