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Pegasus controversy: Supreme Court-appointed technical committee seeks public views on security, privacy

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The technical committee appointed by the Supreme Court to probe the allegations of illegal spying done by the Central government using Israel spyware Pegasus, reached out to the public, seeking their comments on 11 questions by March 31.

The Committee was appointed by the Apex Court in October, 2021, under the guidance of retired Supreme Court judge, Justice R.V. Raveendran.

The questionnaire put up by the committee, comprises of queries such as whether the existing boundaries of state surveillance of personal and private communications of citizens for national security, defence of India, maintenance of public order, and prevention and investigations of offences, are well-defined and understood.

It further asked whether the procedures currently defined under the Telegraph Act, 1885 and the IT Act, 2000 (including executive oversight measures) to prevent the excessive routine use, misuse or abuse of state surveillance were sufficient or not?

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Third question on the list is: Whether there should be special safeguards for specific categories of persons. If so, what categories of persons should these cover and what form should these take?

The questionnaire further sought views on the contexts and the extent to which the sovereign immunity and access should be afforded for acts of hacking digital devices and networks, technology backdoors, decryption of private records and legal mandates to share information under intermediary rules and data protection laws.

Whether the state should be obliged to record or disclose surveillance technology that it has access to or that it has used for the purposes of national security, has also been asked.

Next, it sought to know from public, who this information should be disclosed to and in what form. Also, whether this information should be available under the purview of Right to Information (RTI) Act.

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It further asked the people to suggest ways to strengthen the cyber security of the nation, apart from the laws and safeguards which should be put in place by the state to protect its citizens from targeted surveillance by non-state/private entities.

Next, it sought suggestions on the possible grievance redressal mechanism for a person, whose data was subjected to surveillance by the state, but where no crime or security threat was established from the data collection and processing exercise.

The expert committee was set up by the top court of the country to enquire, investigate and determine certain matters relating to the complaint of unauthorised use of Pegasus spyware against Indian citizens, in the Manohar Lal Sharma case.

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The technical committee comprises of Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, Professor (Cyber Security and Digital Forensics)   and Dean, National Forensic Sciences University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat;  Prabaharan P., Professor (School of Engineering), Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Amritapuri, Kerala; and  Ashwin Anil Gumaste, Institute Chair Associate Professor (Computer Science and Engineering), Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Maharashtra.

As part of the Terms of Reference, the Technical Committee has been called upon to make recommendations regarding enactment or amendment to the existing law and procedures surrounding surveillance and for securing the improved right to privacy, enhancing and improving the cyber security of the nation and its assets, and ensuring prevention of invasion of citizens’ right to privacy, otherwise than in accordance with the law, by State and/or non-State entities.

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