In Pegasus Case, Why Government Won’t File Affidavit In Supreme Court


New Delhi:

The government on Monday declared “it had nothing to hide” but cited national security reasons to tell the Supreme Court that it would not file a detailed affidavit in response to multiple petitions seeking a formal inquiry into the Pegasus spyware scandal.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the court “statements on this issue cannot be made through affidavits… (and) filing and then making it (part of) public discourse is not possible”.

“We cannot let terrorists know what softwares are being used…” he declared.

An annoyed Supreme Court reminded Mr Mehta that while it understood and appreciated the ‘national security’ argument, the government was only asked to respond to claims of the hacking of individuals’ phones – including opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi, major industrialists like Anil Ambani and journalists and activists critical of current administration.

“Last time also national security arose and we clarified nobody… is going to intervene in a way that affects national security. We asked you there are claims of individual phones being hacked… so file your affidavit on whether it was authorised,” Justice Surya Kant said.

The court last month had issued a notice to file the affidavit, making it clear that it did not want the government to disclose anything that could compromise national security.

“We are only concerned with issues of phones of individuals (being) hacked. Which agency has powers and whether it authorised or not… There are individuals saying their right to privacy has been violated,” Justice Surya Kant stressed today.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for two of the petitioners – journalist N Ram and the Editors Guild of India – underscored that point, saying “this is about privacy of individuals”.

“All we want to know is whether Pegasus was used… we don’t want to hamper national security. This is about the privacy of individuals. If Pegasus was used, and ordinary citizens targeted, then its very serious,” he said.

“If individuals are saying their privacy was violated… it is serious and we are ready to go into it. We will form a committee of experts,” Mr Mehta countered.

The court seemed unimpressed and pointed out “appointing a committee is not an issue”.

“… purpose of the affidavit was supposed to be that we know where you stand. As per your own IT Minister’s statement in Parliament – that without subjecting the phone to technical analysis – it is hard to assess whether phone was hacked or not,” the court said.

“We have given opportunities (the government has twice before sought time to file this affidavit)… But they (the government) don’t want to file,” the court observed.

The government had earlier filed a limited affidavit stating petitions seeking an independent probe into the snooping allegations were based on “conjectures and surmises or on other unsubstantiated media reports or incomplete or uncorroborated material”.

That petition referred to a statement in Parliament by IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw (whose phone was also reportedly hacked, although before he joined the BJP), in which said “checks and balances” in the Indian judicial and executive systems precluded such illegal activities.

The Pegasus scandal involves allegations an Indian client of Israeli company NSO Group used the software to conduct illegal surveillance on over 300 opposition leaders, journalists and others. Their phone numbers were allegedly found on a list of potential targets.

The allegations – raised by an international group of media publications that included The Wire from India – triggered massive protests from the opposition and civil society, leading to chaotic scenes inside and outside the Parliament’s monsoon session.

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