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Whether or not Pegasus spyware was used can't be put on affidavit: Centre tells SC

Whether or not Pegasus spyware was used cant be put on affidavit: Centre tells SC

New Delhi: Citing national security reasons, the Centre on Monday told the Supreme Court it does not wish to file a detailed affidavit clarifying whether Pegasus spyware was used or not.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, submitted before a bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana that the government will disclose all details in connection with the Pegasus case before a panel of domain experts but not on an affidavit for national security reasons.

Responding to a batch of petitions seeking an independent probe into the alleged Pegasus snooping, Mehta emphasized that there are terror organizations, which better not know which software is used to combat terror etc. "It has its own pitfalls," he added.

The Centre reiterated that it has "nothing to hide" and emphasized that the government wasn't reluctant at all to share the details. He said it will constitute a committee of domain experts, who are not connected with the government, to examine spying allegations.

"Such issues of whether Centre was using Pegasus or not can be debated in affidavits and can be looked into by domain experts," he added.

Mehta told the bench that also comprised Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, that whether particular software is used or not by the government cannot be brought out in public domain for a discussion, and claimed the panel of independent experts can place their report before the top court.

"Such issues cannot be brought on an affidavit," Mehta submitted.

Meanwhile, the bench emphasized that it had already clarified that it does not want the government to disclose anything which compromises national security.

"We were only expecting a limited affidavit since there are petitioners before us who say their rights have been infringed upon. You had to say whether it's done lawfully or unlawfully" the bench observed.

The top court on September 7, granted time to the Centre to decide on filing a further response on the petitions. Mehta had informed the top court that due to some difficulties he could not meet the officials concerned to take a decision on the filing of the second affidavit.

During the hearing on Monday, apparently not satisfied with the Centre's response, the Chief Justice at one point said, "We are sorry to say... we are going back again and again as if we want to know everything the government is doing. We reiterate... we don't want to know anything about national security. The issue is... we have citizens saying their phones were tapped," he stressed.

"We have to do something. You have something else to say..." the Chief Justice asked Mr Mehta, to which he replied: "No".

"Mr Mehta... beating about the bush will not solve the issue. Let us see what order we have to pass," Chief Justice Ramana responded.

During Monday's hearing, Senior Lawyer Kapil Sibal, appearing for journalist N Ram and the Editors Guild of India, both petitioners, emphasised the point "about the privacy of individuals".

"All we want to know is whether Pegasus was used... we don't want to hamper national security. If Pegasus was used, and ordinary citizens targeted, then it is very serious," he said.

"Nothing has been done since 2019 (when WhatsApp filed a case against the NSO Group)..." Mr Sibal said, pointing to reports that German police had bought and used Pegasus.

The court reserved interim orders and said it would announce them in 2-3 days, saying the government could approach the court before then if it changed its mind on filing an affidavit.

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TAGS:Pegasus spyware Affidavit Centre SC 
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