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Synopsis: Given the seriousness of the matter and the right to privacy of citizens, the judiciary must hold the executive accountable in the matter.
Earlier this year, a global coalition of media organisations revealed that the Pegasus was being used in a number of countries to surveil journalists, activists, dissidents, and political leaders.
Pegasus is a malware that once installed on an individual’s phone, can collect and transmit data, track activities such as browsing history, and control functionalities such as the phone camera.
|Read more: Pegasus spyware issue – Explained, pointwise|
Why is the Pegasus scandal controversial?
Pegasus is manufactured by an Israeli cyber-arms firm called the NSO Group. The NSO Group claims that its only clients are vetted governments. This indicates the possibility of the government’s abuse of its power to spy on its citizens.
What was the government reaction to Pegasus?
In countries like France, government-ordered inquiries into the matter. In India, however, the government has not taken any strict action. Even the RTI is filed on seeking government response on whether the government had purchased the Pegasus was met with the response is like no information available. The government was tight-lipped in Parliament and even a Parliamentary inquiry into the matter was quashed.
Given the inability of Parliament to hold the executive accountable, many have approached the courts for the matter. But unfortunately, no concrete action or steps have come out of the Supreme Court yet.
What are the legal challenges in the court?
The matters are petitions before the courts challenge the Pegasus in many aspects. Did the government authorize spying on its citizens? If yes, was there any legal justification for taking this action? If not, why did the government take sufficient steps to protect its citizens from such potentially dangerous malware?
The government‘s response has been that of evasion. It has not even filed a written affidavit in the matter. And the government has refused to answer questions, stating that it would endanger national security.
What should be the way forward?
Given the seriousness of the matter and violation of fundamental rights of the citizens, with Parliament fails to hold the executive accountable, it is imperative for the courts to protect the rights of the citizens.
Source: This post is based on the article “The” yes or a no” the court must ask about Pegasus” published in The Hindu on 12th October 2021.