Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Pleas to Probe India’s Use of Pegasus Spyware
(Bloomberg) -- India’s Supreme Court agreed to hear petitions seeking an independent probe into the Narendra Modi administration’s alleged use of the Israel-based company NSO Group Ltd.’s Pegasus spyware to surveil journalists, politicians, tycoons and judges.
A panel of judges headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana issued notice to the federal government and sought its stand in the case. “We’ll see whether we will constitute a committee or what to do,” Ramana said. The court will hear the case again after 10 days.
The decision to hear the case in detail is a setback for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party before key state elections next year. The federal Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi has called the matter a “non-issue,” rejecting calls for a discussion in parliament. Opposition parties have called the use of military grade spyware on citizens as treason.
Pegasus was originally designed to help western governments target terrorists and major criminal networks. But it has come under greater scrutiny after an investigation by Amnesty International and several media outlets alleged last month that 37 heads of state, reporters, human rights activists and businessmen had been hacked with the spyware.
During the initial hearing of the case, the federal government denied conducting illegal surveillance but did not say whether it used Pegasus or not. Details on use of military equipment software cannot be disclosed publicly for national security reasons, India’s Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said, representing the government.
Journalists, politicians, lawyers and the Editors Guild of India have petitioned the Supreme Court, seeking information from the government on whether it purchased the spyware and authorized its use on citizens.
Pegasus, sold to select governments and law enforcement agencies, can hack into mobile phones through a link and secretly record emails, calls and text messages. In some cases, it can activate itself without the victim clicking on the link, according to The Washington Post, one of the news organizations involved in the investigation.
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