Sunday, December 5, 2021

Pegasus case: No point in beating around the bush, CJI tells SG

  • The limited question is whether Pegasus software has been used
  • Not interested in the details that would affect security
  • Decision of the bench reserved for a couple of days

Chief Justice of India Justice NV Ramana told the Union Government through the Solicitor General that there is no point in beating around the bush in the case of Pegasus software. The bunch of petitioners just want to know whether a particular software was used by the government or not. The CJI wanted the government to respond to the straight question and the apex court is not interested to know the details that would affect the national security.

The Union government again ducked the question of filing an affidavit on Pegasus issue citing ‘national security.’ Making the issue a public discourse by filing a detailed affidavit as demanded by the petitioners would affect national security, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told Supreme Court Chief Justice NV Ramana-led three member bench. The Solicitor General offered, in a small affidavit, to appoint a committee with domain experts to go into the matter.

“No Mr. Mehta, last time we wanted an affidavit and that is why we granted you time and now you are arguing this…we are going back again and again.. we reiterate that we don’t want to know about national security. The issue is…we have citizens saying their phones were tapped,” Justice Ramana said emphatically.

“Last time the petitioners were insisting that the Central government should make a statement on affidavit whether they are using a particular software  or not. After going in to the matter, the government felt that the matter cannot be placed in an affidavit. It must be gone into by domain experts and their report to be submitted to your lordship,” said Mehta claiming that the government has nothing to hide.

The CJI asked the Solicitor General if the question of whether a particular software was used or not could be the subject matter in this court. It may be the subject matter in writ petitions, but the matter has to be gone into by domain experts and the report should come to you, said Mehta.

Justice Surya Kant observed that the question of national security came up during the last hearing also. There are citizens who say their fundamental rights under Article 21 of the constitution have been violated. We want an answer to that question. We know that national security, whether internal or external, is a very sensitive issue. We don’t want you to divulge any information regarding security. Our limited suggestion was that the union government should file an affidavit stating whether a particular software has been used or not.

“We are again reiterating that we are not interested in knowing any issue or information regarding the national security,” the CJI said. He said the bench only wanted to know whether a particular software was used in the light of allegations that it was used against politicians, lawyers and journalists. The CJI had said the bench would give an order in two or three days. The government could get back to the court if it has any second thoughts on submitting an affidavit.

WhatsApp has said an Israeli company had developed spyware or malware using Pegasus software and that it was used on mobiles of 1400 persons across the globe and 121 persons in India. Supreme Court has to give its decision on a batch of petitions on the alleged surveillance of certain people using the Pegasus software. Senior Advocate Kapil Sibbal appearing for N Ram, chairman of the Hindu, said it is the duty of the court as well as the government to uphold the fundamental rights of the citizens.

K. Ramachandra Murthy
Founder & Editor

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