Making Pegasus reports public: Outgoing CJI orally directed it in open court, but his order keeps it under wraps

The CJI’s oral direction yesterday to upload the reports, after redacting the personal details of some, raised hopes that the court would set high standards of transparency in the matter, so as to facilitate public discourse. But the order uploaded late at night was a disappointment.

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THE Supreme Court has decided to keep the reports of the Pegasus Technical Committee, as well as that of its supervising former judge, Justice R.V. Raveendran, in a sealed cover for the time being. On August 25, the Chief Justice of India (‘CJI’) N.V. Ramana said in open court that the reports would be uploaded on the court’s website after necessary redaction.

However, the court’s order, which was released late last night, read: Pursuant to order dated 27.10.2021, the Technical Committee and the Overseeing Judge have submitted their Reports in sealed covers. The same are taken on record. The sealed covers were opened in the Court and we read out some portions of the said Reports. Thereafter, the Reports were re-sealed and kept in the safe custody of the Secretary General of this Court, who shall make it available as and when required by the Court.”

The matter will now be heard after four weeks.

On August 25, a bench comprising CJI Ramana, and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, opened the sealed cover containing the reports of the Technical Committee, as well as that of Justice Raveendran, and went through the reports in open court.

CJI Ramana informed the court that the reports run into three parts. He also informed the advocates appearing in the matter that the technical committee examined 29 phones. Of them, five phones had some malware but the technical committee says it could not be said to be Pegasus.

On the Union Government’s role, CJI Ramana said it appears from the Pegasus report that the government had not cooperated with the committee. It took the same stand as it did before the Supreme Court.

The CJI also added that Justice Raveendran, has recommended changes in the existing law governing surveillance in the country. Besides, Justice Raveendran recommended that privacy protections must be enhanced along with the cyber security of the nation.

CJI Ramana said that Justice Raveendran’s report would be uploaded on the court’s website, but the technical committee report would be uploaded in redacted form as the committee members have requested for non-disclosure of some personal data.

On October 27 last year, the Supreme Court had formed a Committee supervised by Justice Raveendran, assisted by former Indian Police Service (1976 batch) officer, Alok Joshi, and Chairman, Sub Committee in (International Organisation of Standardisation/ International Electro-Technical Commission/Joint Technical Committee), Dr. Sundeep Oberoi.

The decision to keep the two reports under wraps, despite the CJI’s oral commitment to upload them on the Supreme Court’s website, disappointed those who expected some degree of transparency from the highest court.