Updated: July 23, 2021 5:37:07 am
A PETITION has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking a court-monitored probe by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the Pegasus spyware scandal. It also seeks prosecution of “all accused persons/ministers for buying of Pegasus and snooping on citizens of India” – including politicians, journalists and activists – “for their vested political interest since 2017”.
Citing media reports, the plea filed by Advocate M L Sharma says, “The Pegasus scandal is a matter of grave concern and a serious attack upon Indian democracy, judiciary and country’s security. The widespread and unaccountable use of surveillance is morally disfiguring.”
“In this particular scandal, the institutional stakes for Indian democracy are very high,” it says.
The plea, which has arraigned Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the CBI as first and second respondents, says it is being filed “to protect fundamental right of the citizen of India challenging snooping of the citizen of India via Pegasus software by the respondents for their vested political interest couple with seeking further direction for investigation through SIT formed by this Hon’ble Court”.
It alleges that the “impugned snooping scandal is the biggest crime committed in the Republic of India by the ruling party for their personal political vested interest” and “must be investigated and prosecuted as per law”.
According to petitioner Sharma, although he had filed a complaint with the CBI for lodging of an FIR, it has not been registered yet.
His plea also says that former Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and his successor Ashwini Vaishnaw “did not give a categorical denial” in Parliament when asked if the government or any of its agencies had bought the spyware. This amounted to an admission, it alleges.
The petition refers to allegations that the phones of the complainant, who had raised sexual harassment charges against a former Chief Justice of India, and her family members might have been targeted, and terms it as “chilling”.
The controversy, the plea says, also raises questions about the integrity of democratic institutions. “A system in which political opponents, officials of the Election Commission, and political colleagues could be subject to this kind of surveillance, will inspire less confidence,” it says.
“In some ways, it raises the question of what methods might in future be adopted to turn the course of elections. Are we heading into a whole new territory for manipulating elections, and the institutions that conduct them? That the electoral process has worked so far should not make us complacent about a future where technologies can be deployed by politicians who do not care for any red lines,” it says.
In his petition, Sharma says “government is insinuating a conspiracy in these revelations of snooping”.
“There is much we don’t know. For example, we don’t know who revealed the NSO lists and why. Maybe the intent behind the whistle-blowing was not benign. That should be looked into. But it is also beside the point. Indian citizens are asking the government to come clean on its own use of NSO, or its knowledge of how Pegasus got onto the phones of prominent Indians. To use its own argument, if it has nothing to hide, why fear a little probing?”
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