The Supreme Court today asked the Central government why a detailed affidavit could not be filed in response to the petitions seeking various prayers including a judicial inquiry and directions to the Central government to reveal whether or not it had used the Pegasus software to spy on citizens.
The Bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose issued pre-admission notice in the matter and listed it for ten days from today. In the meanwhile, the Court will deliberate upon the future course of action.
Appearing for the Central government today, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that the affidavit submitted by the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology was sufficient.
He further submitted that revealing whether or not the government uses surveillance software would put it at a disadvantage.
"Now they (petitioners) say, say whether Pegasus was used or not used (by the Centre)...Now we know that IT Encryption Rules is there for state security and national security purposes these software can be used. These software are purchased by every country, they want it to be divulged if the software has not been used. If we divulge this, then the terrorists etc can take preventive steps..."
SG Mehta once again brought up the national security issue, saying,
"These are national security issues and we cannot hide anything from court. This has to be before a committee and cannot be a subject to public debate. Some web portals are weaving narrative that some software is used...If I ask the government to divulge this fact before the Court, then I will fail in my duty."
Justice Kant then replied,
"We as a Court and you as the SG and all lawyers as officers of the Court, none of us would like to compromise the security of the nation. For the defence of the nation, we are not going to disclose anything...
...here some persons of eminence are alleging snooping and hacking of phones. Now this can also be done, but only with permission of competent authority. What is the problem if the authority files an affidavit before us?"
The Court went on to state that it would issue notice in the matter and call for an affidavit from the concerned authority as to what action was taken.
SG Mehta then said,
"What is intended should come by an affidavit before you or a report by the committee. I am not saying I won't say to anyone, I am only saying I wont tell this publicly. We can be before the expert committee."
He then clarified,
"I wish to make it clear that it is not my case that we don't want to divulge by an affidavit. My point is let me say it before a committee whose report will come before you."
To this, CJI Ramana replied,
"We cannot compel you to do something you don't want to."
Appearing for one of the petitioners, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal then weighed in, saying,
"Security of the state is as important to us as to the government. Our intention is to not have security details. But he must reply whether Pegasus as a technology was used or not."
The Court ultimately issued pre-admission notice to the Central government in the matter.
In an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, the Central government revealed that it will constitute a Committee of Experts to look into the Pegasus spyware scandal.
Yesterday, the Court took note of the fact that the affidavit filed by the Central government did not reveal whether or not it has used the spyware.
"We see you don't want to take a stand...Whatever you want to say why don't you file an affidavit? We will also get a clear picture," the Court had suggested to SG Tushar Mehta.
Countering these arguments, SG Mehta submitted that it will be a question of national security if this is examined in the top court.
"We have denied all allegations...IT Minister has clarified that a web portal has published a sensational story before Parliament session begins. There is nothing to hide or that needs examination. It's a scientific thing and we will appoint a neutral body of persons and experts to dispel any wrong narrative spread by certain vested interests and with an object of examining the issues raised. What more can Centre do? This is transparency," he said.
When the matter was first heard, the Court had observed that while the allegations in news reports regarding the Pegasus controversy are serious in nature if true, no efforts seem to have been made by the affected persons to file criminal complaints with the police before approaching the top court.