The Supreme Court on Thursday said allegations of snooping are serious if the reports regarding it are correct as it commenced hearing on a batch of pleas seeking an independent probe into the alleged Pegasus snooping matter.
A bench of Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justice Surya Kant asked some questions at the outset from senior counsel Kapil Sibal appearing for the Editors Guild of India and senior journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar.
"Before going into all that, we have certain questions. No doubt, the allegations are serious, if the reports are true," the CJI observed and raised the issue of delay, saying the matter had come to light way back in 2019.
"Reports of snooping came to light in 2019. I do not know whether any efforts were made to get more information," the CJI observed, adding that he did not want to say that it was an impediment.
The top court said that it was not going into the facts of each case and if some people claimed that their phones were intercepted then there is the Telegraph Act under which complaints can be filed.
"I can explain. We do not have the access to many materials. The petitions have information about 10 cases of direct infiltration into phones," Sibal said.
The apex court asked the counsel appearing for the petitioners to serve the copy of the pleas to the Centre.
"Let them serve copies of the petition to the government. Somebody should appear for the government to take notice," the bench said while posting the matter for hearing on August 10.
"We do not know in which matter we will issue notice. Let them come before us to accept the notices and then we will see," the bench said.
The hearing on as many as nine petitions, including those filed by the Editors Guild of India and senior journalists seeking an independent probe into the alleged Pegasus snooping matter is presently on.
The Guild and veteran journalist Mrinal Pande have challenged the constitutional validity of Section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, Rule 419A of the Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951, Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, and the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009.
These provisions permit the government to intercept the electronic devices of citizens subject to various safeguards.
The petitions 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.
An old phone number of former Supreme Court judge Arun Mishra and the numbers of two officers of the Supreme Court registry are on the list that featured potential targets for surveillance using the Pegasus spyware, The Wire news portal reported on Wednesday.
Other new names disclosed by the portal include that of a lawyer for Christian Michel, the British “middleman” extradited to India in 2018 in the Agusta Westland helicopter deal case. The Centre had hoped to use Michel’s testimony to implicate the Nehru-Gandhi family in the scam.
The Narendra Modi government has so far resisted the Opposition’s demand to discuss the issue in Parliament and refused to acknowledge or deny whether it had bought the Pegasus software which can only be accessed by governments or government-run agencies.