The Centre Monday told the Supreme Court there was “nothing to hide” in the alleged Pegasus snooping matter and it will constitute a committee of eminent experts to examine all the aspects related to the issue.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana deliberated upon the aspect of whether the Centre, which on Monday filed a short limited affidavit, should file a detailed affidavit in the matter. The apex court will continue hearing on Tuesday a batch of pleas seeking independent probe into the alleged surveillance of ceratin people in the country using the Israeli company’s spyware.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for senior journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar who have filed one of the petitions in the matter, argued that the Centre should file an affidavit stating whether the government or its agencies have used Pegasus.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose, that the Pegasus issue would involve the aspect of national security and the matter is sensitive.
“We are dealing with a sensitive matter and the attempt seems to be to make it sensational,” Mehta told the bench, adding, “There would be an issue of national security”.
At the outset, Mehta told the bench that this issue is “highly technical” and expertise was needed to examine the aspects.
“There is nothing to hide. It needs examination by committee of experts. This is a highly technical issue. We will appoint eminent neutral experts from the field,” he said.
Sibal said the affidavit filed by the Centre does not say whether the government or its agencies had used the spyware.
“We do not want the government, which might have used Pegasus or its agency might have used it, to set up a committee on its own,” Sibal said.
While contending that petitioners have relied upon news reports published by a web portal, Mehta said, “According to us, a false narrative is created”.
Earlier in the day, the Centre filed an affidavit in the top court and said that a batch of petitions seeking an independent probe into the Pegasus snooping allegations are based on “conjectures and surmises” or on other unsubstantiated media reports.
In its affidavit, the government said its position on the alleged Pegasus snooping has already been clarified in Parliament by IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.
“A bare perusal of the captioned petition and other connected petitions makes it clear that the same are based on conjectures and surmises or on other unsubstantiated media reports or incomplete or uncorroborated material,” the affidavit said.
With a view to dispelling any wrong narrative spread by certain vested interests and with an object of examining the issues raised, the government will constitute a committee of experts, it said.
On August 10, the top court had taken exception to “parallel proceedings and debates” on social media on the snooping row by some petitioners and said that there must be some discipline and they must have “some faith in the system”.
The apex court is hearing a batch of pleas, including the one filed by the Editors Guild of India, seeking independent probe into the alleged Pegasus snooping matter. They are related to reports of alleged snooping by government agencies on eminent citizens, politicians and scribes by using Israeli firm NSO’s spyware Pegasus. An international media consortium has reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus spyware.
Earlier, during the hearing of the matter, the top court had said that allegations of Pegasus related snooping are “serious in nature” if reports on them are correct. It had also asked the petitioners whether they had made any efforts to file a criminal complaint on this. Editors Guild of India has sought in its plea that a special investigation team be set up to conduct a probe into reported surveillance of journalists and others.