Updated: August 4, 2021 5:20:14 am
THE EDITORS Guild of India has approached the Supreme Court, urging it to set up an independent Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe allegations of “procurement and use of spyware, hacking or electronic surveillance tools such as Pegasus in India”.
The plea referred to reports in international and national media on the Pegasus row and said that allegations of spying, using the software made by Israeli firm NSO Group, “raise grave concerns of abuse of office; dismantling of separation of power; infringement of fundamental rights to privacy, freedom of speech and expression, and freedom of the press; subversion of the democratic process; and commission of serious criminal offences”.
It contended that the “Pegasus cyber-attacks, prima facie, disclose the commission of several serious offences under the Information Technology Act, 2000; the Indian Penal Code, 1860; the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885; and the Official Secrets Act, 1923”.
The citizens of India, the Guild said, have a right to know if the government is infringing the limits of its authority under the Constitution and what steps have been taken to safeguard their fundamental rights. It added it was forced to approach the court as “all attempts to seek accountability and enforce constitutional limits through Parliamentary processes have been stonewalled”.
“Through their intransigence, the respondents (central government) have deliberately avoided public debate on this issue and have provided obfuscated answers,” said the petition, seeking a court-monitored probe into “every aspect of the use of Pegasus” allegedly “by the Government of India and against Indian citizens, especially journalists”.
It sought from the court a direction to the government to disclose if it had acquired Pegasus or any other surveillance tool from NSO and, if so, to disclose the contracts and how the payments were made and furnish details about people who “have been under electronic surveillance, hacking, or otherwise spied on…”.
The petition said that electronic surveillance/hacking “violates the right to freedom of speech and the right to freedom of profession of journalists who are precluded from undertaking safe investigative reporting”.
“Surveillance impedes the free flow of ideas and information, and has a chilling effect on public actors holding the government accountable” which in turn “has a severely detrimental impact on the ability of politicians and public officials to freely exercise their freedom of profession”, the petition said.
It sought “guidelines for the safeguarding of journalists from surveillance, including electronic surveillance, spying and hacking” and “for the safeguarding of women who work as journalists from gendered crimes through surveillance, including electronic surveillance, spying and hacking”.
This is the fifth petition filed in the court in the matter. The others petitions are by senior journalists N Ram and Shashi Kumar, Advocate M L Sharma, CPI(M) Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas and one by five journalists – Pranjoy Guhar Thakurta, S N M Abidi, Prem Shankar Jha, Rupesh Kumar Singh and Ipsa Satakshi.
The court is scheduled to hear the matter on August 5.