Veteran journalists N. Ram and Sashi Kumar have moved the Supreme Court seeking a direction for an independent probe by its sitting or retired judge into the alleged Pegasus snooping scandal.
The plea said mass surveillance using military-grade spyware abridges several fundamental rights and appears to represent an attempt to infiltrate, attack, and destabilize independent institutions, which are critical pillars of the country’s democratic setup.
The petitioners sought direction should be issued to the Centre to disclose if any of its agencies have obtained the license for Pegasus spyware or used it either directly or indirectly, to conduct surveillance as alleged.
The plea is likely to come up for hearing within the next few days. It also sought directions to investigate if the illegal hacking into the phones, represented an attempt by agencies and organizations to muzzle and chill the exercise of free speech and expression of dissent in the country.
The plea argued that investigation involving several leading publications around the world has revealed that more than 142 Indians, including journalists, lawyers, government ministers, opposition politicians, constitutional functionaries, and civil society activists, have been identified as potential targets for surveillance.
The plea said: “Such 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, 19 and 21 by the Supreme Court in KS Puttaswamy v. Union of India.”
It contended that the attack prima facie constitutes an act of cyber-terrorism that has several grave political and security ramifications.
The plea claimed that hacking constituted a criminal offence punishable under, inter alia, Section 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.
This is the third petition in the Supreme Court, which sought a probe into Pegasus scandal. Earlier, advocate M.L. Sharma and CPI-M Rajya Sabha member John Brittas had also moved the apex court seeking probe into the spying allegations.