Thursday, December 2, 2021
EditorialsEditorial: Truth be told

Editorial: Truth be told

Published: 29th Oct 2021 12:00 am | Updated: 28th Oct 2021 9:32 pm

The Supreme Court ordering an independent probe into the Pegasus snooping allegations is a welcome development and comes as a vindication for those fighting for upholding the citizens’ privacy rights. It would be a travesty of justice if the state manages to get a free pass every time by taking cover under the bogey of national security concerns. A technical committee comprising experts in cyber security, digital forensics, networks and hardware would now go into the charges and the probe would be overseen by a supervisory panel led by former Supreme Court judge Justice RV Raveendran. The committee is tasked with investigating whether the Pegasus spyware, developed by an Israeli surveillance company, was used on phones or other devices of the citizens to access stored data, eavesdrop on conversations and intercept information. The apex court rightly rejected the Centre’s request to allow it to set up a panel to investigate the matter. Unfortunately, the NDA government has chosen to stonewall the allegations ever since an international media consortium dropped the bombshell that Israeli firm NSO’s spyware was allegedly used to snoop on world leaders, journalists, human rights activists and political dissidents. Since the Israeli company has made it clear that it sells its spyware only to the vetted government agencies for use against criminals and terrorists, the key question is whether the government had acquired Pegasus and authorised snooping lawfully. Over 300 Indian mobile phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for surveillance. The list includes over 40 Indian media professionals, opposition leaders, a couple of Union ministers and judges.

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The Centre’s argument that disclosing details about the spyware’s use could imperil national security cut no ice with the apex court, which asserted that it was important to safeguard the right to privacy of all. It must be pointed out that France had promptly ordered a probe after Amnesty International revealed that President Emmanuel Macron may have been among the leaders targeted for hacking. However, in India, the Union government has repeatedly brushed aside the opposition’s demand for an investigation. What is more disconcerting is that India does not even have a law for protection of data privacy and the Centre is dragging its feet on the matter. Instead of trying to gloss over the seriousness of the media expose, the government must undertake surveillance reforms to protect citizens from illegal hacking and stop using spyware in policing and security. The SC-appointed committee would, hopefully, help in ferreting out the truth through a free and fair probe. In the interests of national security as well as freedom of speech, the Pegasus scandal can no longer be swept under the carpet. The truth, however unpalatable it might be, must come out.

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