Malware found in phones not Pegasus: SC panel
New Delhi, Aug 25: The Supreme Court on Thursday said that the Pegasus report submitted to it did not find much evidence of the spyware affecting mobile phones.
The matter is being heard by a Bench headed by outgoing Chief Justice of India, N V Ramana, Justices Surya Kant and Hema Kohli.
The Bench opened the sealed cover of the lengthy pegasus report submitted by former Supreme Court judge, Justice R V Raveendran's panel. The report purportedly did not find much evidence of spyware of infecting mobile phones of those who submitted the phones for scrutiny.
The report said that there is no conclusive evidence to show the presence of Pegasus spyware in any of the 29 mobile phones scanned by the panel. The panel however noted that the government of India did not cooperate in the probe.
The report said that some malware were found in five phones but there is nothing to show that it was Pegasus, the SC said while citing the report.
The court said that the report would be available on the website of the Supreme Court. It however added that it would take a call on how much of the report could be uploaded on the website. The matter was adjourned by four weeks.
On July 30, the top court had said it would hear next week the plea filed by Ram and Kumar in the matter.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the senior journalists, had told the court last week that the plea needed an urgent hearing in view of its wide ramifications.
According to the plea, the alleged snooping represented an attempt by agencies and organisations to muzzle the exercise of free speech and expression of dissent in India.
The petition also seeks a direction to the Centre to disclose if the government or any of its agencies obtained licence for Pegasus spyware and used it, either directly or indirectly, to conduct surveillance in any manner.
The petitioners have claimed that investigations involving several leading publications around the world have revealed that several Indians, including journalists, lawyers, ministers, opposition politicians and activists, have been identified as potential targets for surveillance using the Pegasus software.
Besides the plea filed by Ram and Kumar, two separate petitions on the issue have been filed in the SC by advocate M L Sharma and John Brittas.
In his plea, Sharma has sought a court-monitored probe by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the reports of alleged snooping.
An international media consortium has reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on a list of potential targets for surveillance using Israeli firm NSO's Pegasus spyware.
The targeted surveillance using military-grade spyware is an unacceptable violation of the right to privacy which has been held to be a fundamental right under Articles 14 (equality before the law), 19 (freedom of speech and expression) and 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) by the Supreme Court, said the plea, filed by the two journalists.
The hacking of phones belonging to journalists, doctors, lawyers, activists, ministers and opposition politicians seriously compromises the effective exercise of the fundamental right to free speech and expression, it said.
Such an act has an obvious chilling effect on expression by threatening invasion into the most core and private aspects of a person's life, it added.
According to the petition, hacking of phones using the Pegasus spyware constituted a criminal offence punishable under Sections 66 (computer related offences), 66B (punishment for dishonestly receiving stolen computer resource or communication device), 66E (punishment for violation of privacy) and 66F (punishment for cyberterrorism) of the IT Act, punishable with imprisonment and/or fine.