Why the Panel on Pegasus is Needed Now: All you need to Know

Why the Panel on Pegasus is Needed Now: All you need to Know

The Supreme Court of India has formed an expert committee to monitor the controversial Pegasus spyware, the scandal that had compromised the secrecy of individuals and organisations. The court has allocated a bench comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli; former apex court judge RV Raveendran would head the three-member committee. Considering national security, the Centre had refused to file a detailed affidavit in the matter.

The court has fixed seven terms of reference for the Pegasus panel: fundamental facts that have to be determined to decide the issue. These include determining who acquired Pegasus and whether the software undoubtedly targeted the petitioners in the case to what laws justify the use of such spyware against citizens.

The court has advised the committee to suggest a legal and policy framework on cyber security to assure citizens' right to privacy is protected. The committee is likely to submit its report in eight weeks.

The Need for a Committee…

The panel has turned to be the need of the hour. The decision made on cases awaiting enforcement of fundamental rights that are made according to the facts. When they are disputed or unknown, the task of determining these facts is often assigned to committees, which act as an agent of the court. These kind of committees could summon individuals, make ground reports, and submit in the court.

The government has denied the global media investigation into the use of Pegasus but has not provided any facts in the matter. The case requires technical interrogations and requires extensive fact-finding for the court to resolve whether fundamental rights were ravished and pass suitable orders. The Centre's denial to file an additional affirmation means the court would have more assistance from the committee.

Once the committee answers the fact-based questions, the court will examine questions: If the government used Pegasus, can it be justified under the law? then what way out could be granted to the petitioners?

The apex court, in its opening remark, said, "We live in the era of information and we must recognise that while technology is important, it's important to safeguard the right to privacy. Country's every individaul should be covered from violation of their right to privacy and Pegasus contervercial allegation is chilling in nature and court must find out the truth," the top court said.

However, the government had debated that since national security matters were involved, it would not file any further affidavit in the case, but it would be willing to disclose all information before a committee of technical experts. But, the government had sought to appoint the technical committee itself that the court has not allowed, saying "such a course of action would violate the settled judicial principle against bias, that is, the 'justice must not only be done, but also be seen to be done'."

Justice Raveendran's committee could now seek the government's response afresh. However, the court's probe committees into government excesses such as extra-judicial killings are often faced by a lack of cooperation from the government.

West Bengal Panel

The West Bengal government had set up a Commission of Inquiry that included former Supreme Court Justice Madan B Lokur and former Calcutta High Court Justice Jyotirmay Bhattacharya to look into the same allegations in July.

Although the Supreme Court has not stayed this probe, the West Bengal government has told the court that it would voluntarily pause it, and that "nothing will happen" until the SC listens the batch of PILs on Pegasus.

Justice Raveendran said “it will be his endeavour to oversee the functioning of the Technical Committee in the manner directed” by the SC.