New Delhi: Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Thursday said he was perturbed by the statement that many persons "politely declined" to be a member of the Supreme Court's probe committee in Pegasus snooping case. He asserted that the "episode" illustrated how far the country has travelled from the exhortation of Mahatma Gandhi that Indians should not fear their rulers.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday set up a three-member independent expert panel to probe the alleged use of Israeli spyware Pegasus for targeted surveillance in India, observing the state cannot get a "free pass" every time the spectre of national security is raised and that its mere invocation cannot render the judiciary a "mute spectator" and be the bugbear it shies away from.
"I am perturbed by the statement in the SC order that many persons when requested to be a member of a Committee to probe the Pegasus controversy, 'politely declined'," Chidambaram tweeted.
Can any conscientious citizen decline the request of the Supreme Court to serve in a matter of paramount national interest, the former Union minister asked.
"This episode illustrates how far we have travelled from the exhortation of Mahatma Gandhi that Indians should not fear their rulers," Chidambaram said.
In a significant verdict over the issue of protecting citizens' right to privacy that was welcomed by legal experts, a bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana asserted that in a democratic country governed by the rule of law, indiscriminate spying on individuals cannot be allowed except with sufficient statutory safeguards by following the procedure established by law under the Constitution.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday appointed retired apex court judge justice RV Raveendran to supervise a three-member expert committee that will investigate whether the Centre or any state government acquired and used Israeli spyware Pegasus for surveillance of Indian citizens.
The Pegasus snooping row
Forbidden Stories, a website and Amnesty International had access to a leak of 50,000 phone numbers of NSO clients selected for surveillance. NSO makes the Pegasus software. The investigation was done by 17 media agencies across the world and covered 45 countries. An international media consortium had reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus spyware.
Pleas seeking independent probe related to reports of alleged snooping by government agencies on eminent citizens, politicians and scribes by using Pegasus were filed in Supreme Court.
The Centre had expressed unwillingness to file a detailed affidavit citing national security, whether Pegasus was used to allegedly spy on individuals and if it was done lawfully.