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Pegasus Probe: SC-appointed committee reaches out to targeted people with a request

The Pegasus issue kicked up a storm in India when 300 citizens were identified as potential targets of surveillance.

The Technical Committee appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate the use of Pegasus by the Government of India against its own citizens has begun reaching out to people who were allegedly targeted by the spyware, detailing the scope of the probe, and asking them to join the investigation by submitting their infected mobile device and a statement, a notice dated November 26 sent to journalist Rupesh Kumar Singh reveals.

Pegasus-maker NSO Group has always maintained that it only sells the spyware, which allows full remote surveillance of the targets’ phones, to governments for national security purposes. But earlier in July, an international consortium of media organisations revealed that political leaders, journalists, human rights activists, businessmen, military officials, intelligence agency officials, and several other Indians were targeted by the Pegasus spyware.

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

Following this revelation, many of the targeted people in India (including Rupesh Kumar Singh) filed petitions before the Supreme Court, questioning the constitutionality of the surveillance. The Court on October 27 formed an expert committee to investigate the issue saying that:

“[Citing national security concerns] does not mean that the state gets a free pass every time the spectra of national security is raised. National security is not a bugbear that the judiciary shies away from, by virtue of its mere mention. Although this court should be circumspect in encroaching the area of national security, no omnibus prohibition can be called against judicial review.”

Separately, the Justice Lokur and Justice Bhattacharya Commission of Inquiry, which was set up by the West Bengal government to probe the Pegasus spyware issue, also last week served notices to 21 entities and persons asking them to appear before the commission.

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What is the scope of the investigation?

According to the notice seen by MediaNama, the committee will enquire, investigate, and determine the following:

  1. Whether the Pegasus suite of spyware was used on phones or other devices of the citizens of India to access stored data, eavesdrop on conversations, intercept information and/or for any other purposes not explicitly stated herein?
  2. The details of the victims and/or persons affected by such a spyware attack.
  3. What steps/actions have been taken by the Respondent-Union of India after reports were published in the year 2019 about backing of WhatsApp accounts of Indian citizens, using the Pegasus suite of spyware?
  4. Whether any Pegasus suite of spyware was acquired by the Respondent-Union of India, or any State Government, or any central or state agency for use against the citizens of India?
  5. If any government 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?
  6. If any domestic entity/person has used the spyware on the citizens of this country, then is such a use authorised.
  7. 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.

What is the Committee authorised to do?

According to the notice, the Supreme Court has asked the Technical Committee to:

  1. Devise its own procedure to effectively implement and answer the Terms of Reference.
  2. Hold such enquiry or investigation as it deems fit.
  3. Take statements of any person in connection with the enquiry and call for the records of any authority or individual.

What does it require from those who were targeted by Pegasus?

The Technical Committee is reaching out to those who were targeted by Pegasus as identified by news agencies and the 11 petitioners who filed petitions before the Supreme Court asking them for the following:

  1. Infected mobile instrument: The Committee is requesting for the person’s infected mobile instrument to carry out a technical examination of the device. The collection point for the device will be New Delhi and the device will return back on completion of tests, the notice said.
  2. Statement: Those who wish to give a statement before the Committee are requested to inform the Committee for making arrangements for recording their statement, the notice read.

The Committee has asked for a response by December 05, 2021 so that it can inform the date, time, and place for delivery of the mobile handset and/or for recording the statement.

Who is part of the Pegasus Committee?

The court said that it was an uphill task to find experts who are both independent and competent. Some candidates declined the assignment, while others indicated a conflict of interest. They’ve shortlisted expert members. They’ve left it to the expert judge to seek additional assistance if necessary. The committee includes:

  • Justice RV Ravindran, who will oversee its functioning
  • Alok Joshi, former IPS officer
  • Dr Sundeep Oberoi, Chairman, Sub Committee of International Organisation of Standardisation of International Electro-Technical Commission

It also has three technical members:

  • Dr Naveen Kumar Choudhary, National Forensic Science Univerisity
  • Dr Prabhakaran from Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham in Kerala
  • Dr Ashwini Anil Gupte

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