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Pegasus Row: Nothing to Hide, Will Constitute Committee of Experts, Centre Tells SC

On August 10, the top court had taken exception to 'parallel proceedings and debates' on social media on the snooping row. (Image: News18)

On August 10, the top court had taken exception to 'parallel proceedings and debates' on social media on the snooping row. (Image: News18)

In its affidavit, the government said its position on the alleged Pegasus snooping has already been clarified in Parliament by IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.

New Delhi: The Centre on Monday told the Supreme Court that there is "nothing to hide" in the Pegasus snooping allegations and it will constitute a committee of eminent experts to examine all the aspects. The government told a bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana that this issue is "highly technical" and expertise was needed to examine the aspects.

"There is nothing to hide. It needs examination by committee of experts. This is a highly technical issue. We will appoint eminent neutral experts from the field," Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the bench, which also comprised justices Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for senior journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar who have filed a plea seeking probe into the snooping allegations, said the affidavit filed by the Centre does not say whether the government or its agencies had used the spyware.

"We do not want the government, which might have used Pegasus or its agency might have used it, to set up a committee on its own," Sibal said during the hearing which is going on. Earlier in the day, the Centre filed an affidavit in the top court and said that a batch of petitions seeking an independent probe into the Pegasus snooping allegations are based on "conjectures and surmises" or on other unsubstantiated media reports.

In its affidavit, the government said its position on the alleged Pegasus snooping has already been clarified in Parliament by IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw. "A bare perusal of the captioned petition and other connected petitions makes it clear that the same are based on conjectures and surmises or on other unsubstantiated media reports or incomplete or uncorroborated material," the affidavit said. With a view to dispel any wrong narrative spread by certain vested interests and with an object of examining the issues raised, it said, the government will constitute a committee of experts.

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On August 10, the top court had taken exception to "parallel proceedings and debates" on social media on the snooping row by some petitioners and said that there must be some discipline and they must have "some faith in the system". The apex court is hearing a batch of pleas, including the one filed by the Editors Guild of India, seeking independent probe into the alleged Pegasus snooping matter. They are related to reports of alleged snooping by government agencies on eminent citizens, politicians and scribes by using Israeli firm NSO's spyware Pegasus.

An international media consortium has reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus spyware. Earlier, during the hearing of the matter, the top court had said that allegations of Pegasus related snooping are "serious in nature" if reports on them are correct. It had also asked the petitioners whether they had made any efforts to file a criminal complaint on this.

Editors Guild of India has sought in its plea that a special investigation team be set up to conduct a probe into reported surveillance of journalists and others.

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first published:August 16, 2021, 14:20 IST