New Delhi: The Pegasus snooping allegations constitute a serious issue and it is important to know on what scale the spyware is being used, and the basic privacy rights of how many citizens have been violated, says former RSS pracharak K.N. Govindacharya.
“This not only amounts to the biggest ever invasion of the life and liberty of a common person, but it is also a form of cyber-terrorism, which is an offence punishable as per the provisions of the Information Technology Act 2000,” Govindacharya added.
Speaking to ThePrint, Govindacharya weighed in on a petition he filed in the Supreme Court to revive an earlier plea — filed by him in 2019 — seeking an inquiry into the alleged use of the Pegasus spyware to tap phones of common people through WhatsApp.
The earlier petition, he said, was withdrawn because of the top court’s refusal to entertain it. In the petition, he had called for a fair and independent probe by an inquiry committee of the apex court and an FIR in the case. The petition had also sought the disclosure of the identity of the people behind the alleged surveillance.
However, the apex court Monday told the former pracharak to file a fresh petition in the case.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court started hearing pleas seeking investigation in the Pegasus phone-tapping case, centred on a list of 50,000 phone numbers that were allegedly identified as potential snooping targets. The Modi government Monday told the top court that it will set up a committee of experts to look into the controversy.
“In 2019, we were the first one to file this petition before the Supreme Court for an independent probe after a disclosure by WhatsApp that mobile phones of several Indians have been hacked through Pegasus software. However, we had withdrawn our plea after some time because the court had refused to entertain it,” Govindacharya told ThePrint.
The former RSS pracharak, who was once known to court immense power as BJP general secretary, added: “We have now re-submitted our petition, asking for a fair and credible investigation. When the Supreme Court has decided to hear several other petitions on this issue, it will also hear our petition, because we are the first petitioners in this issue. This is a serious issue and it is important to know on what scale it (Pegasus) is being used and basic privacy rights of how many citizens have been violated.”
Petition against surveillance
Govindacharya’s lawyer Virag Gupta told ThePrint that “as per the prayer in the 2019 petition, he had requested for a court-monitored SIT investigation and lodging of FIR against the culprits of snooping”. The petition also included an interim prayer for directions to stop “unlawful surveillance through Pegasus or other applications”.
Gupta said his client made a prayer for the restoration of the 2019 petition since the court is hearing petitions on the current Pegasus scandal.
According to Gupta, the 2019 petition had mentioned two respondents — the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Ministry of Electronics & Information technology (MeitY). “As per a 2018 circular issued by MHA under powers given by Sec 69 (1) of the IT Act, 10 central agencies including Delhi Police were authorised to digital interception and monitoring. So reply must be filed by MHA making specific denial for procurement or usages of Pegasus,” he said.
“The third important plea in the petition is that as the Supreme Court has laid down safeguards for conventional telephone tapping in a 1996 judgment, where the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) had been the petitioner, similarly it should frame comprehensive guidelines for safeguards against unlawful digital surveillance for which statutory provision is made in Sec 69(2) of the IT Act,” Gupta explained.
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