Technical Committee reports to Supreme Court

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The three-member panel formed to investigate the use of Pegasus spyware against journalists, activists, politicians and other Indian citizens has submitted its report to the Supreme Court, Hindustan reported today. Times. The submission was made almost a week ago, according to the report.

The contents of the report remain confidential, the HT report says. At the last hearing, in May 2022, Judge RV Raveendran, who oversees the technical committee, had requested time until June 20 to submit the committee’s final report which, the latest report notes, has now arrived after multiple delays. ‘.

In May, a bench of three judges including Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli had requested that the case be listed next at the end of July: however, no date has yet been set. HT’s report says the case could go to a bench of the aforementioned judges on August 12.

Why is this important? Last year, several petitions were filed in the Supreme Court challenging the use of the Pegasus spyware and calling for a supervised judicial inquiry into, among other things, its deployment. Pegasus, a product of Israel-based NSO Group, is said to be a highly sophisticated spyware that can remotely access a device’s microphone, camera, text messages, WhatsApp chats, and more. In July 2021, investigations by a consortium of 17 news agencies around the world revealed that 300 Indians had been listed as persons of interest for surveillance through the spyware, which included individuals like the leader of Congress Rahul Gandhi, former Chief Ministers of Karnataka HD Kumaraswamy, Siddaramaiah, among other lawyers, bureaucrats, private sector professionals, journalists, election commission officials, etc.

What is the technical committee empowered to look into?

The SC had authorized the committee to examine the following points:

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I. “Whether the Pegasus spyware suite was used on the phones or other devices of Indian citizens to access stored data, eavesdrop on conversations, intercept information and/or for any other purpose not explicitly stated here?
ii. Details of the victims and/or people affected by such spyware attack.
iii. What steps/actions were taken by the Respondent Union of India following reports in 2019 of Indian citizens’ WhatsApp accounts being hacked, using the Pegasus spyware suite.
iv. If a Pegasus spyware suite was acquired by the Respondent Union of India, or by any state government, or by any central or state agency for use against Indian citizens?
v. If a government agency used the Pegasus spyware suite on citizens of that country, under what law, rule, guideline, protocol, or legal process was such deployment made?
vi. If a national entity/person has used the spyware on citizens of that country, is such use permitted?
vii. Any other matter or aspect which may be related, ancillary or incidental to the above terms of reference, which the Committee may deem appropriate and appropriate to
investigate.”

Apart from these issues, the SC had also empowered the committee to make recommendations on improving existing surveillance mechanisms, ways to address suspicions of illegal surveillance, improve cybersecurity in the country, and more.

What the Technical Committee has reviewed so far

At the May 19 hearing, the committee reportedly informed the court that so far it had

  • Carrying out forensic analyzes of 29 telephones
  • Was “in the process of contacting people/entities who may shed light on the subject of the investigation”
  • Developed its own software to detect malware
  • Requested responses from aggrieved persons, investigative agencies and state governments

Previously, he had also recorded testimonies from expert witnesses, victims, parliamentarians and others involved in the case.

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