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Lok Sabha MP wants judicial investigation into Pegasus spyware attack

The Pegasus exposé was followed by a ruckus in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha as several MPs moved to suspend usual parliamentary business to discuss the claims of surveillance. 

As the Pegasus spyware controversy rages and questions are being raised of the Indian government since it was made clear by the NSO group that the product is only sold to vetted governments and agencies, Lok Sabha MP Thol. Thirumavalavan urged the Central Government to order an independent judicial investigation in this regard.

Why it matters: Thirumavalavan’s statements come in response to revelations of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware attack on Indians. While many are proposing to bring intelligence agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation under the ambit of parliamentary or judiciary oversight, few like Thirumavalavan have been demanding an investigation into the matter. The Indian government has not categorically denied spying on the individuals, but did cite surveillance laws and said that “allegations regarding government surveillance on specific people has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever”.

Read: Pegasus Spyware: All The Latest Facts On Who Was Targeted, The Modus Operandi, And More

Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) president Thirumavalavan who represents the Mangalur LS constituency in Tamil Nadu took to social media to issue a statement in this regard and said, “Supreme Court had ruled that privacy is a fundamental right, and it is illegal for Indian Govt to have used Pegasus to violate the privacy of its citizens by snooping on them. #VCK urges the Union government to order an independent judicial investigation (monitored by the SC).

We are reproducing Thirumavalavan’s letter for better accessibility here —

Shocking news reports have emerged in the last couple of days showing how Indian politicians, journalists, social activists, advocates, and several others have been under surveillance using Pegasus software/spyware. The Union Government has issued a denial. On behalf of the VCK, we urge the Union Government to order an independent investigation, under the supervision of the Supreme Court, to conduct an enquiry into this issue and to punish those who have been involved in these illegal activities.

Pegasus, a surveillance spyware developed by Israel’s defence ministry, is sold only to authorised governments around the world-and this is a decision made by Israel. Already in 2019, there were allegations that Pegasus was used in India and elsewhere. As a consequence, renowned media organisations around the world came together to investigate Pegasus and now it has become known that about 50,000 phone numbers could have been under attack from this spyware. It has come to light that the governments of ten nations have used this spyware, and this consortium of international media organisations have also shared the shocking news that India is one of these ten nations.

This spyware may have breached the phones of a sitting Supreme Court judge, Union Ministers, former Election Commissioner, famous advocates, journalists in leading roles in media organisations and social activists. Pegasus is not only a software that listens in on conversations, but it can also be covertly planted in someone’s device and used later to control that device. The microphone and camera in that device can be operated even without the knowledge of the owner. Pegasus has been called Israel’s online weapon.

The Supreme Court had ruled that privacy is a fundamental right, and it is illegal for the Indian Government to have used Pegasus to violate the privacy of its citizens by snooping on them. We urge the Union Government to order an independent judicial investigation in this regard and to punish the offenders.

In a previous story where MediaNama explored various options that are available for containing the possible abuse of surveillance, Alok Prasanna Kumar, senior resident fellow at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy had contested the efficacy of judicial oversight and said, “Judicial oversight is almost never realistic. The experience of this in India and elsewhere is that the “judicial oversight” is usually used to give a cover of legality to the actions of the intelligence agencies. In the absence of transparency and assured independence of the judges in question, such judicial oversight inevitably becomes a box-ticking exercise.”

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