A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court on Thursday will hear a clutch of petitions seeking a special investigation into the Pegasus scandal involving allegations that opposition politicians, journalists and others were targets of Israeli spyware.
Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justice Surya Kant are members of the bench.
Senior journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar, CPM MP John Brittas and advocate ML Sharma have petitioned the top court to direct the government to disclose whether it has obtained a licence for the spyware or used it – directly or indirectly – to conduct surveillance of any kind.
The petition says a global media investigation involving several leading publications has revealed that more than 142 persons in India were identified as potential targets for surveillance using Israeli firm NSO’s Pegasus spyware, which is sold only to governments.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, ace poll strategist Prashant Kishor, two serving Union Ministers, ex-Election Commissioner, 40 journalists among others were found to be on the leaked list of potential targets.
Since the start of the monsoon session of parliament on July 19, the opposition has been demanding a discussion and an independent inquiry led by a Supreme Court judge into the snooping scandal.
Dismissing demands for a probe, the government has maintained that there has been no unauthorised interception by its agencies, adding that allegations regarding government surveillance on specific people has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever.
Government sources on Saturday said more than Rs 133 crore in taxpayer money has been lost because of Parliament disruptions in the monsoon session.
The media organisations, including The Wire, have disclosed that 300 phones from India were revealed to be on the list of potential targets on the leaked database of NSO, which supplies the spyware. It is not established, however, that all the phones were hacked.
The forensic analysis of several mobile phones, according to the petitioners, belonging to people listed as potential targets by the Security Lab of Amnesty International have confirmed security breaches.
Disclaimer:The NSO group, which owns Pegasus, admits this is spyware and is used to hack phones, but says it does business only with governments and government agencies. The Israeli company says it does not corroborate the list of potential targets reported by media companies around the world. The Indian government has said there is “no substance” to the reports of Pegasus being used by it against opposition leaders, journalists and others. NDTV cannot independently verify the authenticity of the list of those who were supposedly targeted.