Pegasus: SC panels suggest amending laws to protect privacy rights, nation's cyber security


New Delhi: The Supreme Court-appointed committees, entrusted with the probe of unauthorised use of Pegasus, have given a slew of recommendations including amending laws to protect citizens' right to privacy and ensure the nation's cyber security.

A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana, which had ordered a probe into the allegations of use of Israeli spyware by government agencies for targeted surveillance of politicians, journalists, and activists, Thursday took note of the lengthy report of the two panels, one technical and one overseeing committee.



The top court, on October 27, last year, had asked the panels to also consider suggestions on enactment or amendment to existing law and procedures surrounding surveillance and for securing the improved right to privacy, enhancing and improving the cyber security of the nation and its assets.

The bench, while perusing the report of the panels in the open court, referred to the findings of the technical one and said it has found some malware in five mobile phones out of the 29 examined but it could not be concluded that it was due to the Israeli spyware.

It said the overseeing panel headed by former apex court judge Justice R V Raveendran has submitted a "lengthy" report in three parts. One of the parts suggested amending the law to protect citizens' right to privacy and ensure the nation's cyber security.

"So far as the technical committee report is concerned and it appears that there is a request from the persons, who have given their phones, that the report not be shared...it appears that some 29 phones have been given and in five phones, they found some malware but it does not mean that it is a malware from the Pegasus...," the CJI said.

The bench said the report of Justice Raveendran has suggestions on protecting the citizens' right to privacy, the future course of action, accountability, amending the law to improve privacy protection, and the grievances redressal mechanism.

It said that the report of the overseeing judge suggested some remedial measures and one is that there should be "amendments in the existing laws and the procedures on surveillance and right to privacy."

"Second is enhancing and improving the cyber security of the nation," the bench said, adding that the report also suggested the "establishment of a mechanism for citizens to raise grievances of illegal surveillance."

Earlier, the top court had said the panel would also enquire and investigate what steps/actions have been taken by the Centre after reports were published in 2019 about the hacking of WhatsApp accounts of Indian citizens, using the Pegasus suite of spyware, whether any Pegasus suite was acquired by the Union of India, or any state government, or any central or state agency for use against the citizens of India.

"If any governmental agency has used the Pegasus suite of spyware on the citizens of this country, under what law, rule, guideline, protocol or lawful procedure was such deployment made? If any domestic entity/ person has used spyware on the citizens of this country, then is such a use authorised? Any other matter or aspect which may be connected, ancillary or incidental to the above terms of reference, which the Committee may deem fit and proper to investigate," the bench had asked the panel to enquire and investigate.

The top court also directed the expert panel to make recommendations regarding enactment or amendment to existing law and procedures surrounding surveillance and for securing the improved right to privacy, enhancing and improving the cyber security of the nation and its assets.

The other recommendations which the expert panel has been asked to submit are to ensure prevention of invasion of citizens' right to privacy, otherwise than in accordance with the law, by State and/or non State entities through such spyware, regarding the establishment of a mechanism for citizens to raise grievances on suspicion of illegal surveillance of their devices.

The technical panel, which included three experts on cyber security, digital forensics, networks, and hardware, was asked to "inquire, investigate and determine" whether Pegasus spyware was used for snooping on citizens and their probe would be monitored by Raveendran.

The panel members were Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, Prabaharan P, and Ashwin Anil Gumaste.

Justice Raveendran, who headed the monitoring panel, was assisted by former IPS officer Alok Joshi and cyber security expert Sundeep Oberoi in monitoring the inquiry of the technical panel.

An international media consortium had reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for surveillance using the Pegasus spyware.

PTI

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