Previously, the Centre “unequivocally” denied all allegations regarding illegal surveillance and urged the court to allow it to constitute a committee of technical experts who will go into the allegations.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday appointed a committee to conduct a “thorough inquiry” into allegations of the use of Pegasus software for unauthorised surveillance. A bench comprising Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli said that there has been “no specific denial” by the Centre.
The committee will comprise three technical members and will be supervised by retired judge Justice R V Raveendran. Previously, the Centre “unequivocally” denied all allegations regarding illegal surveillance and urged the court to allow it to constitute a committee of technical experts who will go into the allegations.
Here is a timeline of the Pegasus snooping scandal
July 18, 2021: A global collaborative investigative project revealed that Israeli company NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware targeted over 300 mobile phone numbers in India including that of two serving ministers in the Narendra Modi government, three Opposition leaders, one constitutional authority, several journalists and business persons.
The Wire reported that the database included at least 300 phone numbers of human rights activists, lawyers, journalists, politicians, and dissidents from across the country.
July 19, 2021: The Centre unequivocally denied all ‘over the top allegations’ of surveillance using Pegasus Spyware. The Union government called the story “sensational”, and seeming to be an attempt “to malign Indian democracy and its well established institutions”.
Minister for Electronics and Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnaw also said that the reports appearing a day before the Monsoon session of parliament cannot be a coincidence.
July 19, 2021: The NSO Group claimed that the allegations of snooping were false and misleading. “The report by Forbidden Stories is full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories that raise serious doubts about the reliability and interests of the sources. It seems like the ‘unidentified sources’ have supplied information that has no factual basis and are far from reality,” the NSO Group said in a statement.
July 20, 2021: During the monsoon session of Parliament, the Congress demanded a probe by a Joint Parliamentary Committee into the Pegasus snooping controversy. The Congress along with other parties also stalled proceedings of both houses of Parliament while raising the issue.
July 22, 2021: A petition was filed in the Supreme Court seeking a court-monitored probe by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the Pegasus spyware scandal. It also sought prosecution of “all accused persons/ministers for buying of Pegasus and snooping on citizens of India” – including politicians, journalists and activists – “for their vested political interest since 2017”.
July 22, 2021: After the BJP claimed that Amnesty International had said that the list of phone numbers suspected to be under surveillance was not directly related to the Israeli company NSO Group, the global human rights group issued a statement debunking the “false rumours” and “inaccurate media stories”.
Amnesty International said that it “categorically stands by” the findings of the investigation.
July 23, 2021: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “treason”, called for the resignation of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and demanded a judicial probe into allegations of surveillance using Pegasus spyware.
July 25, 2021: CPI(M) Rajya Sabha member John Brittas approached the Supreme Court seeking a court-monitored probe into the Pegasus spyware controversy by a special investigation team (SIT).
The plea urged the court to direct the Centre to conduct an “immediate investigation through a special investigating team” into the allegations “as revealed by The Wire” news website on July 19.
July 27, 2021: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announces a commission of inquiry into the alleged surveillance of phones using the Pegasus spyware developed by the Israeli cyber-intelligence company NSO Group.
Retired Supreme Court judge Justice Madan B Lokur, and former Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court, Justice (retd) Jyotirmay Bhattacharya, were appointed as members of the commission.
July 29, 2021: Over 500 individuals and groups wrote to Chief Justice of India (CJI) N V Ramana seeking immediate intervention of the Supreme Court in the snooping scandal. They also sought a moratorium on the sale, transfer and use of Israeli firm NSO’s Pegasus spyware in India.
August 5, 2021: The Supreme Court heard eight petitions seeking an independent probe into the matter. Describing the allegations of surveillance through the use of the Pegasus spyware as “serious”, the Supreme Court wondered why no one had filed an FIR if there was reason to believe that phones had been hacked. It also pointed out that the allegations first surfaced in 2019.
The bench did not issue notice to the Centre and instead asked the parties to first supply copies of their petitions to the government counsel after which it would hear the matter again on August 10.
SC order on Pegasus spyware – The Indian Express by The Indian Express on Scribd
August 17, 2021: Former RSS ideologue K N Govindacharya moved the Supreme Court urging it to revive a petition filed by him in 2019 – and later withdrawn – seeking registration of an FIR and a National Investigation Agency (NIA) probe against Facebook, WhatsApp and Pegasus spyware maker NSO Group, over alleged snooping charges.
August 16, 2021: The Supreme Court said it cannot compel the “reluctant” Centre to file a detailed affidavit on petitions seeking to know if Pegasus spyware was used to snoop on certain citizens and steps it took to probe the allegations.
In an affidavit, the Centre told the SC that “with a view to dispel any wrong narrative spread by certain vested interests and with an object of examining the issues raised”, it would set up “a Committee of Experts in the field which will go in to all aspects of the issue”.
August 17, 2021: The Supreme Court issued a pre-admission notice to the Centre on a batch of petitions seeking an independent probe into the scandal, while also observing that it will not ask the government to disclose information that affects national security interests.
The apex court said it will discuss and decide the future course of action, after the government reiterated that the matter had national security implications due to which it did not want to put the details in a public affidavit.
September 12, 2021: The Supreme Court reserved its interim order on petitions seeking a probe into the surveillance allegations, with the Centre reiterating that it was ready to have all questions gone into by a committee of experts, but did not want to put it in public domain for reasons of national security.
October 27, 2021: Ruling that the state does not get a free pass every time the spectre of national security is raised, the Supreme Court appointed a committee to conduct a “thorough inquiry” into allegations of use of Pegasus software for unauthorised surveillance.
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