The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear next week the plea of senior journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar seeking an inquiry headed by a sitting or retired judge of the apex court to investigate into the reports of the government using Israeli software Pegasus to spy on politicians, activists, and journalists.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana took note of the submissions of senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Ram and veteran scribe Sashi Kumar, that the petition has been filed and numbered and needed to be heard in view of the large ramifications of the alleged snooping.
"We will list it sometime in next week," the CJI said.
The plea said the alleged snooping represented an attempt by agencies and organisations to muzzle and chill the exercise of free speech and expression of dissent in India.
Sibal said that civil liberties of citizens, politicians belonging to opposition parties, journalists, etc. have been put under surveillance, and the issue is making waves in India and world over and requires an urgent hearing.
The petition filed by the senior journalists seeks a direction to the Centre to disclose if it or any of its agencies have used Pegasus Spyware either directly or indirectly to conduct surveillance in any manner.
"Direct the Government of India to disclose if the Government of India or any of its agencies have obtained license(s) for Pegasus spyware and/or used/employed it, either directly or indirectly, to conduct surveillance in any manner whatsoever. Issue direction of constituting an inquiry to investigate the extent of surveillance on Indian citizens using the Pegasus spyware and other entities reponsible for it, headed by sitting or retired judge of this court duly nominated by this court," stated the plea.
The plea further said that the targeted surveillance using military-grade spyware is an unacceptable violation of the right to privacy which has been held to be a fundamental right under Articles 14, 19 and 21 by Supreme Court in KS Puttaswamy case.
The targeted hacking, interception of inter alia journalists, doctors, lawyers, civil society activists, government ministers and opposition politicians seriously compromises the effective exercise of the fundamental right to free speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a), added the petition.
The petitioners have claimed that investigation involving several leading publications around the world has revealed that more than 142 Indians, including journalists, lawyers, government ministers, opposition politicians, constitutional functionaries and civil society activists, have been identified as "potential targets" for surveillance using Pegasus software.
An international media consortium has reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on a list of potential targets for surveillance using Israeli firm NSO's Pegasus spyware.
(With inputs from ANI and PTI)