Appearing before the top court, Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta said that whether a “particular software was used or not is not a matter for public domain”. He said the matter can be inquired into by a committee of independent domain experts and it can be filed before apex court.
SG Mehta also said that the government will constitute a technical committee of independent domain experts that will examine the phones of petitioners and those claiming to have been affected by Pegasus to determine if there was snooping or hacking. The committee can examine and submit a report to the Supreme Court, he said.
“The Supreme Court has given a reasonable and fair opportunity to file detailed affidavit to know its stand on crucial issues linked to petitions. If the government does not, then the Supreme Court will hear parties and pass appropriate orders,” a bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli told SG Mehta .
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana had on September 7 granted more time to the Centre to decide on filing a further response on the petitions after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said he could not meet the officials concerned to take a decision on the filing of the second affidavit.
The Centre had earlier filed a limited affidavit in the apex court saying the pleas seeking an independent probe into the Pegasus snooping allegations are based on “conjectures and surmises or on other unsubstantiated media reports or incomplete or uncorroborated material”.
On August 17, the top court had issued notice to the Centre on the pleas, making it clear that it did not want the government to disclose anything which compromises national security.
In its short affidavit filed in the court earlier, the Centre had said the position on the issue has already been clarified in Parliament by Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.
With a view of dispelling any wrong narrative spread by certain vested interests and examining the issues raised, the government will constitute a committee of experts, it had said.
The top court, while issuing notice on the pleas, had said that it did not want the government to disclose anything related to the national security and had asked the Centre what is the “problem” if the competent authority files an affidavit before it on the issue.
“Our considered response is what we have respectfully stated in our last affidavit. Kindly examine the issue from our point of view as our affidavit is sufficient,” the law officer had told the bench, adding, “The Government of India is before the highest court of the country.”
The law officer had said if the government of any country divulges information about which software is used and which is not used, then those involved in terrorist activities may take preemptive measures.
The pleas 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.
(With inputs from agencies)