Expert panel to probe Pegasus row

Expert panel to probe Pegasus row
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Expert panel to probe Pegasus row

Highlights

State can’t get free pass every time spectre of national security raised: Supreme Court

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday appointed a 3-member panel of cyber experts to probe the alleged use of Israeli spyware Pegasus for surveillance of certain people in India, saying that the state cannot get a "free pass" every time the spectre of national security is raised and it cannot be the "bugbear" that the judiciary shies away from.

In one of the significant verdicts in recent times over the issue of citizens' right to privacy, a bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said that mere invocation of national security by the state cannot render the judiciary a "mute spectator" and asserted that indiscriminate spying on individuals in a democratic country cannot be allowed.

The bench appointed the panel, to be monitored by former apex court judge R V Raveendran, in response to the pleas seeking investigation into the alleged widespread and targeted surveillance of politicians, journalists and activists, among others using the Israeli firm NSO's Pegasus spyware.

"Members of a civilized democratic society have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Privacy is not the singular concern of journalists or social activists. Every citizen of India ought to be protected against violations of privacy. It is this expectation which enables us to exercise our choices, liberties, and freedom," the apex court order said.

Writing the 46-page order for the bench, the CJI though acknowledged the issue of national security, the power of the authorities and limited scope of judicial review in such matters and said, however, this does not mean that the state gets a "free pass" every time the spectre of national security is raised.

The bench referred to the allegations that the Centre or state governments are party to the rights' deprivation of the citizens while declining the vehement submission of the central government to permit it to appoint an expert panel on its own, saying such a course would violate settled judicial principle against bias as "justice must not only be done, but also be seen to be done".

"National security cannot be the bugbear that the judiciary shies away from, by virtue of its mere mentioning. Although this Court should be circumspect in encroaching the domain of national security, no omnibus prohibition can be called for against judicial review," said the bench, which also comprised Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli.

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