New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday granted more time to the Centre to decide on filing a further response to a batch of pleas seeking an independent probe into the alleged snooping of certain people in India through the use of Israeli spyware Pegasus and slated the matter for further hearing on September 13.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana had issued a notice to the Centre on the pleas on August 17, while making it clear that it did not want the government to disclose anything which compromised national security. The Centre had earlier filed a short affidavit on the matter.
As soon as the matter came up for hearing before the bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said that due to some difficulties he could not meet the officials concerned to take a decision on filing of the second affidavit and sought listing of the cases either on Thursday or Monday.
"My Lords, I need to take a call on filing a second affidavit. It could not be decided due to some difficulties. Kindly give me time till Thursday or Monday,” the law officer said.
The CJI said the Centre’s affidavit is there.
To this, the law officer said that the Centre was to take a decision on filing of a second affidavit in the matter.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for senior journalist N Ram, said that he does not have any objection to the request.
“List it on Monday,” the bench said.
The Centre had earlier filed a limited, short affidavit in the apex court saying that 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".
It said the position on the issue has already been clarified in Parliament by IT 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.
Sibal, on behalf of some of the petitioners, had responded by saying that the security of the state is as important to the citizens of this country as it is to the state.
“We don’t want the state to give us any information about any security aspect in respect of use of any device. That is not our intention and that is not even the petition,” he had said.
The top court, while issuing notice on the pleas, 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.
It had said that divulging information on affidavit on the issue of whether the Israeli firm NSO's Pegasus spyware was used or not would involve the aspect of national security.
It had said that the bench did not want even a word in the affidavit regarding the defence or national security of the country.
"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."
The law officer 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 pre-emptive steps.
“We will have nothing to hide. These are the issues of national security. Which software is used or which is not used would essentially be a matter of national security which we cannot hide from the court,” he had said.
The court is hearing as many as 12 pleas, including the one filed by the Editors Guild of India, seeking an independent probe into the matter.
They are related to reports of alleged snooping by government agencies on eminent citizens, politicians and scribes by using Israeli firm NSO's spyware Pegasus.
An international media consortium has reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus spyware.