Saturday, February 4, 2023

Pegasus snooping: Supreme Court refuses notice to Centre, counsel says treat it as class action suit

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The Supreme Court refused to issue notice to the Central government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah on a batch of petitions filed against alleged snooping on the mobile phones of journalists, political figures and constitutional authorities through Israeli spyware Pegasus, which came up for hearing on Thursday.

The Bench, led by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, refused to issue notices as sought by Advocate Manohar Lal Sharma, a petitioner-in-person in one of the nine petitions, which include one by journalists N. Ram and Sashi Kumar and another by the Editors’ Guild of India and journalist Mrinal Pande.

The Court, however, directed all the petitioners to serve a copy of their plea to the Government of India and slated the matter for August 10.

The apex court observed that since the allegations are levelled against the Union government, it cannot proceed in the matter, till a representative of the Central government is present in the court.

The bench heard the petitioner Counsels on the following two issues.

  1. Why the individually aggrieved petitioners have not filed FIRs?
  2. Why the petitions are filed now though Pegasus issue surfaced in 2019?

Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, who was representing journalist N. Ram, submitted, “The spyware is sold only to Government agencies. Journalist, public figures, constitutional authorities, court officers, academics all are targeted. The question Govt has to answer. Who purchased it? How much was spent?”

Mr Sibal added that Pegasus can even take photos and videos. “If I move around in my private moments, they can watch me. They can activate my camera, my mic.”

Senior Advocate Shyam Divan, representing Jagdeep Chokkar submitted, “These are not some media reports. Two governments, US and France, have alerted the Israel government and its response was sought. These are not just some media reports. For a private citizen to find out that a spyware has been turned on him by the government, it is something per se unconstitutional. It constitutes a war by the government on the citizens.”

Senior Advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for SNM Abdi, journalist whose name was in the potential list of Pegasus targets. He submitted, “As regards filing a complaint, this is a matter of very wide dimensions. This is not a case of an individual’s phone being bugged. It is a mass action. It is a case where the Government of India should have taken action on its own.”

Senior Advocate Arvind P. Datar appeared for two journalists and urged that judiciary needs to take this as a class action kind of proceeding.

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