New Delhi: The Supreme Court will hear a series of petitions seeking a probe into the Pegasus row alleging that several opposition leaders, journalists, and bureaucrats were targetted by the Israeli spyware.
A two-member bench, headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana, will hear the petitions. Justice Surya Kant is the second judge on the Bench.
The clutch of petitions includes requests by the N Ram and Sashi Kumar, who have sought an independent probe by a sitting or a retired judge into the alleged Pegasus snooping matter.
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 petition also quotes a global media investigation involving several leading publications has revealed that more than 300 persons in India were identified as potential targets for surveillance using Israeli firm NSO’s Pegasus spyware, which is sold only to governments.
The alleged list of potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus spyware includes Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, poll strategist Prashant Kishor, two serving Union Ministers, ex-Election Commissioner, 40 journalists among others.
“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.