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Editors Guild seeks SIT probe into Pegasus scandal, says ‘snooping of citizens a death blow to democracy’ | India News

NEW DELHI: The Editors Guild of India on Tuesday approached the Supreme Court for court-appointed-and-monitored SIT probe into the Pegasus snooping scandal and alleged that the Centre is deliberately “avoiding public debate” and providing “obfuscated answers” on the issue.
The Editors’ Guild in its petition said that snooping of citizens and journalists is “a death blow to democracy” and “poisons the heart of democratic accountability”.
Joining a group of journalists and activists who have already filed petition in the apex court, the Editors’ Guild pleaded that the court should intervene in the issue as government “has not expressly denied procuring Pegasus spyware”.
It said that the snooping was done not only against journalists but also on constitutional post holders and opposition leaders which amounts to attacking the integrity of several democratic institutions and the political process.
Challenging constitutional validity of the existing legal architecture for surveillance and use of and, it said, “The indiscriminate use of these capabilities against journalists and other democratic actors destroys freedom of speech and poisons the heart of democratic accountability. The petitioners are, therefore, constrained to seek the intervention of this court in enforcing rule of law, public accountability, ensuring law and order, and safeguarding of fundamental rights, including freedom of speech and expression, freedom of the press and privacy”.
“It is regretfully submitted that all attempts to seek accountability and enforce constitutional limits through parliamentary processes have been stonewalled. Through their intransigence, the respondents have deliberately avoided public debate on this issue and have provided obfuscated answers, forcing the petitioner to approach this Court,” it said.
It said the Pegasus cyber-attacks disclosed the commission of several serious offences under the Information Technology Act, the Indian Penal Code, the Indian Telegraph Act, and the Official Secrets Act.
“In the face of NSO Group’s stated position that it only sells to vetted governments, these allegations of spying raise grave concerns of abuse of office; dismantling of separation of power; infringement of fundamental rights to privacy, freedom of speech and expression, and freedom of the press; subversion of the democratic process; and commission of serious criminal offences,” the petition said.
“Pegasus cyber attacks have raised severe questions as to the integrity of several democratic institutions and the political process. Amongst names on the list of potential targets included a former election commissioner, several members of the opposition, and political strategists. If unaddressed, this can shake the public faith in democratic processes, and create a chilling effect, which is poisonous to the health of any democracy,” it said.
The petition said that the success of democratic processes hinges on its fairness and integrity and snopping of citizens will have a strong deterrent effect on public participation in democratic processes and institutions.
“If politicians and elected legislators are under fear of illegal surveillance, this will severely impact their ability to exercise their responsibilities as public actors, which must include exposing, critiquing and opposing state action. The failure to disclose the scale and nature of illegal surveillance will halt the free exchange of ideas and the free flow of information. This can render a death blow to democracy, which must be urgently protected from such corrosion,” it said.

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