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Is Pegasus Infringing Right To Privacy?

Pegasus is spyware produced by NSO Group, an Israeli cyber-arms business, that can be installed secretly on mobile phones (and other devices) running Android. Pegasus is capable of reading text messages, tracking calls, gathering passwords, tracking location, and accessing the microphone and camera of the target device.

The burning question that appears out of nowhere is if Pegasus is encroaching on our right to privacy, then what should be our next step towards it. Hence, Protection of Life and Personal Liberty is the subject of Article 21 of our Constitution, which also includes the right to privacy as a integral part.

In May 2019, the global messaging WhatsApp Inc. identified a vulnerability in its software that enabled Pegasus spywareto infiltrate the devices of WhatsApp's users. This news was followed by a disclosure that the devices of certain Indians were also affected, which fact was acknowledged by the then Hon'ble Minister of Law and Electronics and Information Technology in a statement made in the Parliament on 20th November 2019.

On 18th July 2021, a consortium of nearly 17 journalistic organisations from around the world, including one Indian organisation, realesed the results of a long investigative effort indicating the alleged use of the Pegasus software on several private individuals.

In Justice K.S. Puttaswamy(Retd) vs Union Of India landmark judgement of Supreme Court it was held that the Right to Privacy is a Fundamental Right under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution and hence it cannot be violated.

Though, it is said that India has brought Pegasus spyware as a weapon and not as to infringe the right to privacy. It was said by Subramanian Swamy that "Modi Govt bought Pegasus to spy on our primary democratic institutions, politicians and public. Govt functionaries, opposition leaders, armed forces, judiciary all were targeted by these phone tappings. This is treason".

The committee constituted by the Supreme Court has promised that they would be looking into allegations of snooping using the Pegasus Spyware and said that "The committee requests any citizen of India who has reasonable cause to suspect that his/her mobile has been compromised due to specific usage of NSO Group Israel's Pegasus software to contact the technical committee appointed by the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India, with reasons as to why you believe your device may have been infected with Pegasus malware, and whether you would be in a position to allow the Technical Committee to examine your device".

That recently in Manohar Lal Sharma Vs Union of India and Ors, 2021(SC) writ petition was filed, requesting the court investigate an accusation of the use of such technology, its utility, need, and suspected abuse, such as Pegasus wherein its merits and demerits were discussed.

The recent article by the New York's Times, regarding the Government of India buying the Pegasus in 2017 deal when Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to Israel brings the Government to the Centre Stage again. As of now, we do not know the veracity of this article but if its true then it will be a national issue.

In October 2021, the Supreme Court has appointed an Expert Committee comprising of three members whose functioning will be overseen by retired Judge of the Supreme Court Justice (Retd.) R. V. Raveendran, to prepare the report on the usage of Pegasus and it is infringing the Article 21 (right to privacy) and also Pegasus reliance on the "National Security" after a comprehensive investigation and present it before the Hon'ble Supreme Court. Even yet, the problem still needs to be resolved in its entirety and is still pending in front of Hon'ble Supreme Court.

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