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SC appoints expert committee to probe Pegasus spyware use

The order came on a batch of petitions seeking a court-monitored probe into Pegasus snooping row. The court said the committee will be headed by retired apex court judge R V Raveendran.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday appointed a three-member expert committee to “investigate and determine” whether Pegasus spyware was used by the government for alleged snooping purposes.

“The Committee will enquire, investigate and determine: whether the Pegasus suite of spyware was used on phones or other devices of the citizens of India to access stored data, eavesdrop on conversations, intercept information and or for any other purposes not explicitly stated herein,” a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said.

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The order came on a batch of petitions seeking a court-monitored probe into Pegasus snooping row. The court said the committee will be headed by retired apex court judge R V Raveendran.

The other members of the panel will be Alok Joshi, an ex-IPS officer, and Sandeep Oberoi, a cyber security expert.

The bench, which also comprised justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, declined permission to the government to set up a committee of independent experts to look into the matter.

In the terms of reference, the court asked the committee to find out what steps/actions were taken by the Union government after reports were published in 2019 about hacking of WhatsApp accounts of Indian Citizens using Pegasus spyware.

“Whether any Pegasus suit of spyware was acquired by the Respondent, UOI, or any State Government, or any central or state agency for use against the citizens,” it said.

Among the questions, the bench said if any governmental agency used Pegasus spyware, under what law, rule, guideline, protocol or lawful procedure such deployment made.

If any domestic entity/person used the spyware, was such a use authorised, the court said.

The committee may deem fit and proper to investigate any other matter that may be connected to “ancillary or incidental to the terms of reference”, it said.

The bench said the committee is authorised to devise its own procedure to effectively implement and answer the terms of the reference.

The panel can hold such enquiry or investigation as it deems fit and take statements of any person in connection the enquiry and call for the records of any authority or individual, it said.

Justice Raveendran will oversee the functioning of the committee with respect to the methodology to be adopted, procedure to be followed, enquiry and investigation that is carried out and preparation of the report, the court said.

The overseeing judge is at liberty to take the assistance of any serving or retired officer(s), legal expert(s) or technical expert (s) in discharge of his functions, the order said.

The court requested Justice Raveendran to fix the honorarium of the committee members in consultation with them, which shall be paid by the government.

It said the central and state governments, besides agencies/authorities under them, are directed to extend full facilities, including providing support with respect to infrastructure needs, manpower, finances, or any other matter, as may be required by the panel or Justice Raveendran to effectively and expeditiously carry out the assigned task.

Virender Kumar Bansal, Officer on Special Duty/Registrar, Supreme Court, is directed to coordinate between the committee, the overseeing judge and the central/state governments to facilitate communication and ensure smooth functioning and expeditious response to implementation of any request made by the panel, it said.

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