The Supreme Court on October 27 appointed an independent expert committee into the allegations of spying using Israeli spyware Pegasus.
In a decision that opened with a quote from English novelist George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen- Eight Four’, the bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana, and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, criticised the government’s refusal to divulge, on the grounds of national security, any details of what the software was used for and why.
"If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself," the bench wrote from the ‘Nineteen Eight-Four’ in the beginning of the 46-page-long judgement.
Nineteen Eighty-Four, a dystopian fiction novel by Orwell, was first published in 1949.
The apex court said its effort is to uphold the Constitutional aspirations and rule of law without being consumed in the "political rhetoric" even as it observed that the petitions filed in the matter raised “Orwellian” concern.
“The present batch of writ petitions, the court said, raise an Orwellian concern, about the alleged possibility of utilising modern technology to hear what you hear, see what you see and to know what you do,” the order read.
Characteristic of George Orwell’s writings, "Orwellian" refers to his dystopian account of a future totalitarian state which is destructive to the welfare of a free and open society. The theme of Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell’s ninth and last book in his lifetime, centres around the consequences of totalitarianism, mass surveillance and repressive regimentation of people.
Every citizen, described in the novel, is under constant surveillance by the authorities with constant reminders using the slogan "Big Brother is watching you".
The top court was hearing a batch of 12 petitions which sought an independent probe into the alleged illegal use of the Israeli NSO Group spyware Pegasus, a cyber-weapon capable of hacking a target’s smartphone, extracting its contents and turning on the device’s microphone and camera.
"In this context, this Court is called upon to examine an allegation of the use of such a technology, its utility, need and alleged abuse,” the bench said.
The inquiry into the allegations will be conducted by a three-member technical committee constituted by the court and its functioning will be overseen by Justice R V Raveendran, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, who will be assisted by two other experts. The committee is expected to submit a report to the apex court in eight weeks.
“We make it clear that our effort is to uphold the constitutional aspirations and rule of law, without allowing ourselves to be consumed in the political rhetoric,” the court said.An international media consortium had in July reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers, including that of politicians and journalists, were on the list of potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus spyware.