The Editors Guild of India on Tuesday approached the Supreme Court seeking a court-monitored investigation by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the 'Pegasus Project' media report, reported Live Law.
"Freedom of the press relies on non-interference by the government and its agencies in reporting of journalists, including their ability to securely and confidentially speaking with sources, investigate abuse of power and corruption, expose governmental incompetence, and speak with those in opposition to the government", Editors Guild of India said in its plea, reported Live Law.
In its plea, the Editors Guild of India has sought information on whether the government had procured, licensed, obtained and used Pegasus on Indian citizens or if it had entered into "contracts, agreements, memoranda of understanding...with foreign countries for supplying spyware, hacking or electronic surveillance for use on Indian citizens".
The Supreme Court will hear a batch of petitions seeking a court-monitored probe into the Pegasus spyware controversy on Thursday, August 5. A bench comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justice Surya Kant will hear three separate petitions in the case.
The pleas filed by senior journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar, Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas of Communist Marxist Party of India (Marxist) and advocate ML Sharma are listed for hearing before a Bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and Justice Surya Kant on August 5.
The pleas seek inquiry headed by a sitting or retired judge of the top court to investigate the alleged snooping.
The petition filed by the senior journalists sought 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 responsible for it, headed by sitting or retired judge of this court duly nominated by this court," stated the plea.
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.
Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas of Communist Marxist Party of India (Marxist) in his plea has sought a court-monitored probe by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into reports of the government using Israeli software Pegasus to spy on people. The petition has said that despite the very serious nature of the allegations, the government has not cared to investigate the issue.
Advocate Sharma sought direction for an SIT probe on whether the Union government bought the Pegasus spyware following due procedure of law and whether and how it had been used since the purchase.
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 Agencies)