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Written by: Satyam Jain (Intern)

Edited by: Anubhav Yadav (Content Head & Developer)

The Apex Court recently formed an independent committee, headed by a former SC judge to probe into the Pegasus snooping case. Upholding an individual’s right to privacy and referring to it as the ‘private sacred space’, the bench directed the committee to probe into the highly controversial matter.

Pegasus:

Pegasus is digital spying and phishing software developed by the Israeli firm, NSO group. The firm claims to sell its software only to the national governments. Alleged customers of the NSO group are Saudi Arabia, UAE, Mexico, Hungary, India, etc.

Functioning of Pegasus:

Spear Phishing:  The malicious software may invade the target’s privacy by a step as simple as sending him a web link, which may seem innocuous to his eyes. The link may be sent, using WhatsApp or other messaging networks; the link, once clicked, allows access to all the information on the device. Once Pegasus is installed in the target’s device, the attacker has complete access to the contacts, call log, photos and even camera and mic for extended surveillance. The software automatically sends the desired data to the attacker and self destroys itself, without leaving any trace of its existence, the moment attacker wishes.

Zero Click Attack:  The software accesses the target’s device without any human interaction. This makes all the awareness about not clicking on the links pointless.

The Background:

After an invasion on the privacy of numerous public figures, WhatsApp sued Pegasus in a US court, alleging that the latter cyber-attacked the former’s users. International mechanisms to fight cyber spying include the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) and the Budapest Convention on Cyber Crime, although India is not a signatory in the treaty. The Indian government has taken quite a few steps to ensure cyber privacy, such as I4C, CERT-IN, NCCC, etc.

The Governing Laws:

The cyber phishing matters are governed by the ITA (Information Technology Act, 2000) and the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019. Apart from these, the Right to Privacy enshrined under Article 21 in the Indian Constitution is being repeatedly talked about.

The Case:

Manohar Lal Sharma vs.  UOI LL 2021 SC 600

Petitions by journalists N. Ram and Sushi Kumar in the Hon’ble Supreme Court

The Facts:

After more than 50 journalists, lawyers, politicians and eminent personalities faced threat to their privacy due to cyber phishing by Pegasus, veteran journalists N. Ram and Sushi Kumar filed petitions in the Apex Court alleging cyber spying by the Government of India through Pegasus. While the government vaguely denied the allegations of having used Pegasus, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appealed for a next date for the proceedings. The petitioners, being represented by Sr. Advocates Kapil Sibbal, Shyam Divan, Meenakshi Arora and Rakesh Dwivedi, demanded a fair probe into the matter.

The Judgment:

The judgment began with an Orwellian quote, “If you want to keep it a secret, you must hide it from yourself.”(1984). The three-judge bench of the Hon’ble CJI Mr. NV Ramana, Hon’ble Mr. Justice Surya Kant and Hon’ble Ms. Justice Hima Kohli heard the arguments of both the parties. The bench observed that the UOI refused to take a ‘clear stand’ on whether the allegations of having used Pegasus were true or not; the Solicitor General gave a vague denial in the two-page affidavit submitted to the court. The Justices laid special focus on ‘Journalistic Freedom’, which the bench deemed necessary for the democracy to function. The Court also said that the mere invocation of national security did not render the court a mute spectator. The Apex Court while ruling that the power of state to invade individual privacy in the name of ‘national security’ was not absolute, formed a 3-member committee, headed by a former Supreme Court judge.

The Committee:

Retd. Justice Mr. R V Raveendran

Mr. Alok Joshi (Retd. IPS Officer)

Dr. Sundeep Oberoi

The Technical Committee:

Dr. Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, Dean, NFSU, Gandhinagar

Dr. Prabharan P., Professor, School of Engineering, Kerala

Dr. Ashwin Anil Gumaste, Professor, IIT, Mumbai

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