Probe sought into pegasus case

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Probe sought into pegasus case

  • Supreme Court advocate Manohar Lal Sharma has circulated in the media a signed online copy of a plea he claims to have filed in the Supreme Court for an investigation into an allegation in a New York Times report that India bought Pegasus spyware from Israel.
  • The petition sought necessary direction to register FIR for investigation to recover public money paid for the impugned deal and prosecute persons concerned.

About Pegasus:

  • Pegasus is a spyware which was developed in 2010 by the Israeli firm, the NSO Group.
  • Pegasus spyware was first discovered in an iOS version in 2016 and then a slightly different version was found on Android.
  • Pegasus spyware is able to read the victim’s SMS messages and emails, listen to calls, take screenshots, record keystrokes, and access contacts and browser history.
  • Hackers can hijack the phone’s microphone and camera, turning it into a real-time surveillance device.
  • Pegasus can send back to the hacker the target’s private data, including, contact lists, calendar events, passwords, text messages, and live voice calls from popular mobile messaging apps”.
  • The target’s phone camera and microphone can be turned on to capture all activity in the phone’s vicinity, expanding the scope of the surveillance.
  • Pegasus has evolved from a crude system that was reliant on social engineering to software that can compromise a phone without the user having to click on a single link. This is called Zero-click attack.
  • In 2019, Pegasus was able to infiltrate a device with a missed call on WhatsApp and could even delete the record of this missed call. This makes it difficult for the user to know that they were targeted.
  • In the same year, WhatsApp said Pegasus exploited a bug in its code to infect more than 1,400 iPhones and Android phones. These include journalists, government officials and human rights activists. It soon fixed the bug.
  • July 2021: The Pegasus Project, an international investigative journalism effort, revealed that various governments used the software to spy on opposition politicians, government officials, activists, journalists and many others. It said the Indian government used it to spy on around 300 people between 2017 and 2019.

Government’s stand on pegasus

  • The government refused to file a detailed response to the allegations made by the petitioners citing national security as a reason.
  • The government also pleaded to set up its own probe which was rejected by the court.
  • The court said that such a course of action would violate the settled judicial principle against bias, i.e., “justice must not only be done, but also be seen to be done”.

SC response on pegasus issue

  • A Bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana had, on October 27, set up an expert technical committee monitored by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, Justice R.V. Raveendran, to inquire into the allegations of spying and file a report.
  • The order came after the government did not file a "detailed affidavit" in court in response to the petitions, citing national security reasons among others.
  • The Justice Raveendran committee recently invited persons who suspect themselves of being snooped on to come forward and hand over their electronic equipment for technical examination to detect the presence of the spyware.

Views regarding privacy

  • The right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21.
  • The expression “freedom of press” has not been issued in Article 19 but it is comprehended within Article 19(1)(a).
  • The 2017 K.S. Puttaswamy judgment clarified that any invasion of privacy could only be justified if it satisfied three tests:
  1. The restriction must be by law
  2. It must be necessary (only if other means are not available) and proportionate (only as much as needed)
  3. It must promote a legitimate state interest (e.g., national security)]
  • In 2018, the Srikrishna Committee on data protection noted that post the K.S. Puttaswamy judgment, most of India’s intelligence agencies are “potentially unconstitutional” because they are not constituted under a statute passed by Parliament.