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Pegasus: SC-appointed panel seeks devices of petitioners for technical checks

Earlier this year, in a series of reports published by several news outlets across the world, it was alleged that the Pegasus software had been used to snoop on journalists, activists, government officials, and even Cabinet ministers.

The committee has also stated that the petitioners would also be given the option of “making submissions under oath”.

A THREE-MEMBER panel constituted by the Supreme Court to look into allegations of unauthorised phone surveillance using Pegasus, the spyware from Israeli company NSO, has asked the petitioners to submit the targeted devices for “technical evaluation”, The Indian Express has learnt.

According to sources, the panel asked the petitioners in an email to submit the devices “within the week”, which will then be tested. The sources said the email informed the petitioners that they would be given the option of “making submissions under oath” before the panel supervised by retired Supreme Court judge, Justice R V Raveendran.

The members of the panel are Dr Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, Dean of National Forensic Sciences University in Gandhinagar; Dr Prabaharan P, Professor at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham in Kerala; and Dr Ashwin Anil Gumaste, Institute Chair Associate Professor at IIT, Bombay.

The sources said the email mentions that the devices will be collected in New Delhi but does not specify the exact address, adding that “it could be communicated later”.

Earlier this year, following reports that Pegasus had been used to snoop on journalists, activists, officials and even Union Ministers, some of the activists and journalists moved the Supreme Court seeking the formation of a committee to look into the issue.

On October 27, a three-judge bench of Chief Justice of India N V Ramana, and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, ordered the formation of a three-member technical committee to be overseen by Justice Raveendran.

The apex court had then listed a six-point term of reference for the committee, asking it to determine, among other things, whether Pegasus was used on phones or other devices of citizens to access stored data, eavesdrop on conversations, intercept information and for any other purposes.

The court had also asked the committee to determine whether the software was acquired by a state or the Central Government, and that if a state, Centre, or any of its agencies had used the software, what laws and procedures were followed.

In its order on October 27, the Supreme Court observed that selection of the three-member committee was “an extremely uphill” task since they had to “find and select experts who are free from prejudices, are independent and competent” — and that “some of the candidates politely declined this assignment, while others had some conflict of interest”.

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