Indiscriminate spying on people cannot be allowed: SC

Indiscriminate spying on individuals cannot be allowed: Supreme Court

The court said members of a civilised democratic society have a reasonable expectation of privacy

Supreme Court. Credit: Reuters file photo

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said indiscriminate spying on individuals cannot be allowed in a democratic country, governed by the rule of law, except with sufficient statutory safeguards, as such surveillance, either by the state or by any external agency, directly infringed upon the right to privacy.

“Every citizen of India ought to be protected against violations of privacy. It is this expectation which enables us to exercise our choices, liberties, and freedom," a three-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice N V Ramana said.

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Forming an independent experts committee, to be supervised by retired judge Justice R V Raveendran, to examine charges of snooping with Israel's Pegasus spyware, the bench said: “Right to privacy and freedom of speech are alleged to be impacted, which needs to be examined. The entire citizenry is affected by such allegations due to the potential chilling effect”.

It said members of a civilised democratic society have a reasonable expectation of privacy, which is not the singular concern of journalists or social activists.

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The bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, however, pointed out that to access information, a need may arise to interfere with the right to privacy of an individual, only when it is necessary for protecting national security or interest and is proportional.

The bench also quoted renowned scholar Daniel Solove, “Privacy often can be protected without undue cost to security. We can reach a better balance between privacy and security. We must. There is too much at stake to fail.”

The court noted petitions filed by journalist N Ram and others had raised "Orwellian concerns" about an all pervasive technology like Pegasus.

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