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An intervention that raises hopes

An intervention that raises hopes

Legal experts have described the Supreme Court ruling, which ordered an investigation into the Pegasus case, as "sunshine in the dark." In stark contrast to the orders in various cases in recent times, a bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana appointed an independent committee to look into the matter. The Supreme Court had been in line with the interests of the Central Government on a number of issues facing the country, including demonetisation, the Babri Masjid case, the PMCARES Fund, the Citizenship Amendment Act and the unscientific lockdown. As doubts were strengthening on the top court's sense of justice, the Supreme Court has ruled that any attempt by the government to encroach the privacy and rights of its citizens under the cover of national security is unconstitutional.

Reports from Forbidden Stories, a global investigative media group, have revealed that the Modi government has used the Israeli spyware Pegasus to infiltrate the privacy of individuals it does not like, and used it to unjustly infringe on the law. And what led to this were WhatsApp who sensed the attempt to snoop using its platform and the close scrutiny by the Citizens Lab of Monk School of Global Affairs, in Toronto University, chartered to verity the espionage. Even when WhatsApp came out against the Israeli firm NSO in public in 2019, and when reports came in July 2021 that over 300 mobile phones of India were being spied upon using the spyware, the Central government kept denying them all. Everyone from the Prime Minister to local BJP leaders, propagated that no information can be leaked as it affects national security and it is an international conspiracy to tarnish India. The Opposition demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee investigation into the matter was turned down, and the winter session of the parliament was adjourned two days earlier to avoid further discussion. The need for an independent inquiry, which was trampled on in Parliament by the arrogance of power, is now going to happen with the Supreme Court ruling. The bench of the Chief Justice overturned the Central Government's conviction about precedents that this case could be overcome just as they escaped the corruption charges in the Rafale deal citing national security. This is also why legal experts have termed the new ruling a silver lining.

The apex court's judgement contains several significant statements that can be termed illuminating in the contemporary context. To be mentioned in special among them are: the government's espionage silences individuals and the media, the confidentiality of news sources must be protected, the government's attempts to keep the courts as mere bystanders in the name of national security cannot be tolerated, and the government must ensure that the surveillance of individuals, if needed, is constitutional and legal. It is after such precise observations that the Court has given the Committee of Inquiry extensive powers. The powers range from tracking the data theft through Pegasus to scrutiny of existing cyber laws and suggestions for mechanisms for citizens to complain if government or non-governmental organizations infringe on their privacy. An independent and fair inquiry will ultimately lead to a major conflict with the central government. It would not be desirable now to conjecture what the Centre's approach to the inquiry would be, including on the exchange of information.

A host of issues - from the fact that Pegasus' espionage began in the country after the return of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval after their visit to Israel to reports that the information provided by central investigative agencies to court in the Bhima Koregaon case was manufactured using malware - will come under the ambit of the investigation. If a report comes out after an independent and fearless investigation into the Pegasus privacy theft case, it can be predicted now that it will be ten times more glorious than this court ruling.

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TAGS:Pegasus judgement Supreme Court no free pass for executive national security 
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