Pegasus Case, Supreme Court: No Parallel Social Media Debates

'No Parallel Social Media Debates': Supreme Court To Pegasus Petitioners

New Delhi:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday told petitioners seeking a probe into the Pegasus scandal that they should “have faith in the system” and not take part in “parallel debates on social media”.

“Why have parallel debates? Whatever you are saying in the media… whatever queries are to be answered… there should be a proper debate in the court,” a bench led by Chief Justice NV Ramana told opposition leaders and journalists behind the clutch of petitions that have been filed.

“We are not against debates… but when the matter is in court, it should be deliberated here.”

The court also postponed further hearing to Monday, after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the government, sought more time to read and respond to the petitions.

“I have received the copies (of the petitions)… I need instructions from the centre.. need time till Friday,” Mr Mehta told the court as the hearing began today.

Last week the court, in its first hearing in this matter, said allegations the spyware is being used to target opposition leaders, journalists and activists, are “serious if newspaper reports are correct”.

During that hearing, senior advocate Kapil Sibal – who is appearing for journalist N Ram, one of the petitioners – referred to an order by a district court in California in the United States.

The American court was hearing a suit filed by WhatsApp, Inc. against the NSO Group (the developers and sellers of Pegasus), in which it was observed the Israeli company had said the software is sold only to “vetted governments”. 

In an affidavit filed by N Ram, it was indicated that the American court had noted Pegasus was being used to spy on some Indian journalists.

However, when the Supreme Court noted that this observation did not appear in the American court’s order, Mr Sibal acknowledged an error and said the names of Indian journalists were to be found in a petition filed by the Editors Guild of India.

Today, the Supreme Court referred to that error as it cautioned against “social media debates” over the Pegasus scandal.

“I had a doubt whether I had read it properly or not. Debates should not pass the limits. We are following a procedure and a system,” the court said in response to Mr Sibal saying his client had been trolled after the mistake in the previous hearing.

The global media investigation involving several leading publications, including The Wire, has disclosed that 300 phones from India were revealed to be on the list of potential targets on the leaked database of NSO, which supplies Israeli spyware Pegasus. 

It is not established, however, that all the phones were hacked.

Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, poll strategist Prashant Kishor, two serving Union Ministers, a former Election Commissioner, and around 40 journalists are among those found on an alleged leaked list of potential targets.

Dismissing demands for a probe, the government has maintained that there has been no unauthorised interception by its agencies, adding that allegations regarding government surveillance on specific people has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever.

Yesterday, the defence ministry told Parliament it has not made any transaction with the NSO Group.

The NSO group has said it is not connected to the leaked databases.

Disclaimer: The NSO group, which owns Pegasus, admits this is spyware and is used to hack phones, but says it does business only with governments and government agencies. The Israeli company says it does not corroborate the list of potential targets reported by media companies around the world.

Disclaimer: The Indian government has said there is “no substance” to the reports of Pegasus being used by it against opposition leaders, journalists and others. NDTV cannot independently verify the authenticity of the list of those who were supposedly targeted. 

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