New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered an independent probe into the Pegasus snooping matter and appointed an expert committee whose function will be monitored by the top court itself.
Allegations of snooping using the Pegasus software are about fundamental rights and "could have a chilling effect", the Supreme Court said, while setting up an inquiry panel headed by a retired judge.
As per reports, retired Supreme Court Justice RV Ravindran will head the committee and an IPS officer will assist him, along with officials from the National Forensic University.
The committee's report has to be handed in to the court by the next hearing, two months later.
The top court's observations on constituting the committee assume significance in view of the Centre's statement that it would set up an expert panel on its own to look into the entire issue.
"The state cannot get free pass every time by raising national security concerns. The court will not encroach upon national security but that does not make the court a mute spectator. There are allegations of foreign agencies being involved and these need to be probed" the bench said while remarking that a "vague denial from the government" is not sufficient.
Multiple petitions have called for an investigation into allegations that Israeli Pegasus spyware - sold only to governments - was used to target opposition leaders, journalists and others.
In its judgment, the SC underlined the importance of privacy and technology, saying that while technology can be used to improve the lives of people, it can also be used to invade privacy. It said certain limitations exist when it comes to privacy, but the restrictions have to pass constitutional muster.
"Privacy is not just for journalists and politicians but also about the rights of individuals. There are certain limitations on the right to privacy but all decisions should be under the constitutional process."
The petitions also raised important concerns for the freedom of press, which is important pillar of democracy, and the protection of sources of journalists, the court said.
The judges said it was an "uphill task" to form the committee.
The controversial use of the Pegasus spyware, a flagship product of Israel's NSO Group, to target thousands of people including more than a hundred in India, hit the headlines following media reports in July this year. The publication of names by digital news platform The Wire, which was part of the collaboration along with 16 media partners led by the Paris-based journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories, included activists, journalists and politicians in the country.