Pegasus case: Centre cites national security, says won’t file the detailed affidavit, SC reserves interim orders
With Centre saying that it is not filing an affidavit, the Supreme Court on Monday reserved for interim orders in the controversial Pegasus case. Reiterating that snooping happened or not is the question and not on any aspect of national security, Chief Justice N V Ramana told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that the interim order will come in two-three days and the Centre can re-think on filing a detailed affidavit before that time. Many times, Solicitor General said that the Centre don’t want to say yes or no whether it used Israeli spyware Pegasus for snooping.
“We are reserving order. We will pass some interim order. It will take two-three days. If you have some re-thinking on this, you can mention the matter before us,” the bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, told Mehta.
The apex court told Mehta that it had already made clear that it did not want the Government to disclose anything which compromises national security.
“You (Solicitor General) have repeatedly been saying that the Government does not want to file an affidavit. We also do not want any security issues to be put before us. You say that a committee will be formed and the report will be submitted… We have to look into the whole issue and pass an interim order,” the bench said, adding, “Mr. Mehta, you have been beating around the bush and that is not the question here.”
During the hearing, Mehta told the bench that the Government does not wish to file a detailed affidavit in the matter as the issue of whether particular software is used or not by the Government is not a matter for public discussion and making this a part of an affidavit will not be in the national interest. He said the Government has “nothing to hide” and that is why the Centre has on its own said that it will constitute a committee of domain experts who will look into these allegations. Mehta told the bench that report of the committee of domain experts will be made available to the apex court. He also reiterated that Government has already clarified in Parliament which was objected to by the main petitioner Editor N. Ram’s advocate Kapil Sibal.
Solicitor General said that the issue of whether particular software is used or not used by the Government cannot be a subject matter of public discourse as it has its “own pitfalls” and it would be better if target groups, like terror outfits, do not know what is being used to combat their activities. “The insistence that it must come in the public domain, please appreciate, the harm it may cause. Suppose, I say this particular software I am not using, it would alert all potential targets. It can be terror groups, it can be any other groups. If I say yes, I am using it, there would be different consequences,” he said.
“Your lordships are aware, every technology has its own counter technology to protect the system from being examined by the security agencies. Therefore, the only distinction is instead of the petitioners insisting that everything must come in the public domain by way of an affidavit, I am saying let the experts go into it and place it before your lordships,” Mehta told the bench.
The apex court told Mehta that it had already made clear that it did not want the Government to disclose anything which compromises national security. On September 7, the apex court had granted more time to the Centre to decide on filing a further response on the petitions after Mehta had said that due to some difficulties he could not meet the officials concerned to take a decision on the filing of the second affidavit.
The Centre had earlier filed a limited affidavit in the top court saying the pleas seeking an independent probe into the Pegasus snooping allegations are based on “conjectures and surmises or on other unsubstantiated media reports or incomplete or uncorroborated material.” In its limited affidavit filed in the Court, the Centre had said the position on the issue has already been clarified in Parliament by Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw. With a view to dispelling any wrong narrative spread by certain vested interests and examining the issues raised, the Government will constitute a committee of experts, it had said.
The top court, while issuing notice to the Centre on the pleas on August 17, had said that it did not want the Government to disclose anything related to the national security and had asked the Centre what is the “problem” if the competent authority files an affidavit before it on the issue. “Our considered response is what we have respectfully stated in our last affidavit. Kindly examine the issue from our point of view as our affidavit is sufficient,” the law officer had told the bench, adding, “The Government of India is before the highest Court of the country.”
Mehta had said if the Government of any country divulges information about which software is used and which is not used, then those involved in terrorist activities may take preemptive measures.
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets leading American CEOs - September 23, 2021
- Pegasus snooping: Supreme Court to form an expert panel to probe usage of spyware. Will pass order next week - September 23, 2021
- After Supreme Court’s intervention, Centre agrees for Rs.50,000 compensation on Covid deaths. Around Rs.2500 crores the estimated cost - September 22, 2021