Pegasus judgement to be landmark decision

Pegasus judgement to be landmark decision

Revelations in international media had pointed to extensive surveillance and hacking of citizens’ phones for many years

This file studio photographic illustration shows a smartphone with the website of Israel's NSO Group which features 'Pegasus' spyware, on display. Credit: AFP File Photo

The Supreme Court’s much-awaited judgement in the Pegasus case is an important landmark in the history of the fight for the fundamental rights of citizens and institutional protection for them. It is especially important because these rights are being challenged in the country in various ways and Pegasus symbolised one of the most serious of such challenges. Revelations in the international media had pointed to extensive surveillance and hacking of citizens’ phones for the past many years with the help of a software from an Israeli company. The Supreme Court’s decision to set up a committee under a former judge of the court, Justice R V Raveendran, to investigate the charges of illegal surveillance and hacking, under its own supervision, is welcome because it will hopefully bring out the truth and fix responsibility for the wrong decisions and actions that may have taken place.  

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The committee will have a number of experts to assist it in its investigation. An important feature of the court’s decision is that it has rejected the government’s offer to set up a committee to probe the matter. This would not have helped because it is the government which is under the shadow of suspicion, and an exercise done under its auspices would not have been credible at all. The fact that the court recognised this is itself important. With its decision, the court has asserted and reaffirmed its position as the trustworthy sentinel of the fundamental rights of citizens. It has clearly said this in many words. The statements that “every invasion of privacy must pass the test of reasonableness and constitutional necessity’’ and that “such invasion can't be allowed without statutory backing" are very reassuring. It has sent out the message that it will not compromise on its duty to protect the citizens’ rights even as “it is conscious of not entering the political thicket.’’ 

The court’s strong criticism of the government in the case is very significant. The very fact that it quoted from George Orwell’s fictional account of totalitarianism, 1984, has set the theme of that criticism. The government has been evasive and was unwilling to provide the information that the court wanted, and tried to hide behind the excuse of national security. The court has done well to reject this, and this should be relevant in other cases also where the government has tried to curb the rights of citizens. It has identified eight issues to be “enquired, investigated and determined’’. The committee will also make recommendations for enactment of legal measures and other steps for better protection of rights. Hopefully, the government will extend full co-operation to the committee and its findings will be available earliest.