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Possibility of some foreign authority, agency, or private entity involved in placing Indian citizens under surveillance: SC constitutes 3-member committee to look into Pegasus snooping case

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New Delhi, Oct 27 (ILNS) The Supreme Court today constituted a committee headed by Justice R. V. Raveendran former judge, Supreme Court of India, to prepare a report after a thorough inquiry into Pegasus snooping scandal.

A three-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justices Surya Kant & Hima Kohli constituted a Technical Committee comprising of three members, including those who are experts in cyber security, digital forensics, networks and hardware, whose functioning will be overseen by Justice R.V. Raveendran, former Judge, Supreme Court of India.

Details of the committee are as follows-

A committee headed by

  1. Justice RV Raveendran,former Judge, Supreme Court of India.
  2. Mr Alok Joshi, former IPS officer (1976 batch),
  3. Dr Sundeep Oberoi, Chairman, Sub Committee in (International Organisation of Standardisation/ International Electro-Technical Commission/Joint Technical Committee).

The members of the Technical Committee shall comprise

  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).
  3. Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Amritapuri, Kerala and
  4. Dr Ashwin Anil Gumaste, Institute Chair Associate Professor (Computer Science and Engineering), Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Maharashtra.

The Court noted the compelling circumstances that have weighed it to pass such an order are as follows:

Right to privacy and freedom of speech are alleged to be impacted, which needs to be examined, The entire citizenry is affected by such allegations due to the potential chilling effect.

The court noted that there was no clear stand was taken by the Respondent-Union of India regarding actions taken by it. One factor for the court to order an investigation was Looking at the seriousness accorded to the allegations by foreign countries and involvement of foreign parties. Possibility that some foreign authority, agency, or private entity is involved in placing citizens of this country under surveillance. Allegations that the Union or State Governments are parties to the rights’ deprivations of the citizens. The court noted that the Limitation under writ jurisdiction to delve into factual aspects. For instance, even the question of usage of the technology on citizens, which is the jurisdictional fact, is disputed and requires further factual examination.

The Court further requested the Committee to prepare the report after a thorough inquiry and place it before it, expeditiously. The matter would now be heard after eight weeks.

An international consortium, including the Indian news portal, had recently released a series of reports indicating that Pegasus may have been inserted on the mobile devices of several persons including Indian journalists, activists, lawyers, officials, a former Supreme Court judge and others.

The reports further revealed a list of phone numbers that were selected as potential targets. Upon analysis by a team from Amnesty International, some of these numbers were found to have traces of a successful Pegasus infection, while some showed attempted infection, the reports had said.

A slew of petitions were filed before the top court, seeking a probe into the allegations.

The apex court had reserved its interim order in the matter on September 13. Israel-based spyware firm NSO had earlier claimed that it sells its Pegasus spyware only to “vetted governments” and not to private entities while refusing to provide details regarding the governments, which bought the controversial product.

On August 17, the Court had issued notice to the Centre in the pleas after the Union submitted that it was willing to give details regarding the controversy to an expert committee, but will not make it public before the Court for fear of national security implications.

The Supreme court had questioned the Central government as to why a detailed affidavit could not be filed in response to the petitions filed before the Court. The Court had eventually reserved its order, saying that it will pass orders without the Centre’s affidavit.

The court today formed the committee saying, “In a democratic country governed by the rule of law, indiscriminate spying on individuals cannot be allowed except with sufficient statutory safeguards, by following the procedure established by law under the Constitution.”

The terms of reference of the Committee are as follows: To inquire, investigate and determine: 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 not explicitly stated herein?

The details of the victims and/or persons affected by such a spyware attack, What steps/actions have been taken by the Respondent ­Union of India after reports were published in the year 2019 about the hacking of WhatsApp accounts of Indian citizens, using the Pegasus suite of spyware.

Whether any Pegasus suite of spyware was acquired by the Respondent­Union of India, or any State Government, or any central or state agency for use against the citizens of India

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 deployment made?

If any domestic entity/person has used the spyware on the citizens of this country, then is such a use authorised? 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 make recommendations: Regarding enactment or amendment to existing law and procedures surrounding surveillance and for securing the improved right to privacy.

Regarding enhancing and improving the cyber security of the nation and its assets. To ensure prevention of invasion of citizens’ right to privacy, otherwise than in accordance with the law, by State and/or non­State entities through such spy wares.

Regarding the establishment of a mechanism for citizens to raise grievances on suspicion of illegal surveillance of their devices. Regarding the setting up of a well­ equipped independent premier agency to investigate cyber security vulnerabilities, for threat assessment relating to cyberattacks and to investigate instances of cyberattacks in the country.

Regarding any ad­hoc arrangement that may be made by this Court as an interim measure for the protection of citizen’s rights, pending filling up of lacunae by the Parliament.

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

The terms of reference of the Committee are as follows: A- To enquire, investigate and determine: i. 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 not explicitly stated herein? The details of the victims and/or persons affected by such a spyware attack. What steps/actions have been taken by the Respondent ­Union of India after reports were published in the year 2019 about the hacking of WhatsApp accounts of Indian citizens, using the Pegasus suite of spyware. Whether any Pegasus suite of spyware was acquired by ­Union of India, or any State Government, or any central or state agency for use against the citizens of India? 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 deployment made? If any domestic entity/person has used the spyware on the citizens of this country, then is such a use authorised? 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.

The Court said that the committee will also make recommendations: i. Regarding enactment or amendment to existing law and procedures surrounding surveillance and for securing the improved right to privacy. ii. Regarding enhancing and improving the cyber security of the nation and its assets. iii. To ensure prevention of invasion of citizens’ right to privacy, otherwise than in accordance with the law, by State and/or non­State entities through such spyware. iv. Regarding the establishment of a mechanism for citizens to raise grievances on suspicion of illegal surveillance of their devices. v. Regarding the setting up of a well­ equipped independent premier agency to investigate cyber security vulnerabilities, for threat assessment relating to cyberattacks and to investigate instances of cyberattacks in the country. vi. Regarding any ad­hoc arrangement that may be made by this Court as an interim measure for the protection of citizen’s rights, pending filling up of lacunae by the Parliament. vii. On any other ancillary matter that the Committee may deem fit and proper./ILNS/KR/SNG/

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