The Desk

Pegasus Depositions: Mr. Narasimhan Ram

Mr. N. Ram spoke about the threat to journalistic sources posed by Pegasus and criticised the Technical Committee’s method of examination

Between July 22nd and August 3rd, 2021 multiple petitions were filed by journalists, activists, and political officials at the Supreme Court alleging that the Union Government had illegally spied on them through their personal electronic devices using the Israeli NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. The NSO Group claims that they only sell the spyware to governments.

The Union government has been non-committal about whether they have used Pegasus in the past. They claim that revealing this information would have a negative effect on national security.

The Supreme Court on October 27th, 2021 constituted a Technical Committee comprising various experts, to be overseen by former SC Justice R.V. Raveendran to investigate the alleged use of Pegasus. The Committee conducted depositions and recorded the statements of petitioners and cyber-security experts between December 10th, 2021, and February 14th, 2022. The Committee took the statement of Mr. Narasimhan Ram, one of the petitioners and the former managing director and editor-in-chief of the newspaper ‘The Hindu’, as a part of their investigation.

Mr. Ram gave his statement to the Committee on December 27th, 2021. He questioned the Technical Committee’s requirement for a physical examination of the petitioner’s devices, claiming the examination could be conducted remotely, as Amnesty International had done during their investigation. Meanwhile, the Committee was requiring people to travel to Delhi to submit their devices and remain present while the examination was conducted.

Threat to Journalists and their Sources

Mr. Ram claimed that the individuals targeted through Pegasus are often investigative journalists who have been critical of the Union government. He claimed that the Union’s use of Pegasus for surveillance is indicative of a clear ‘surveillance regime’ and is both illegal and criminal in nature.

Mr. Ram stated that India has no regime to protect journalistic sources. The use of spyware like Pegasus, he claims, threatens sources further by piercing through the protection of anonymity. Mr. Ram said he believes targets should be notified after surveillance on them has been completed in order to ensure transparency between the Union and citizens. However, he added that would still be insufficient to justify state surveillance through the use of Pegasus.

The Necessity of Legal Oversight

Mr. Ram brought up Amnesty International’s Forensic Methodology Report which claims that there are three Pegasus servers located in India. He clarified that he was unaware whether any of the servers were in operation.

Using the example of the ‘five-eye’ countries—Australia, Canada, USA, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom—Mr. Ram stressed the need for parliamentary oversight over state surveillance. He claimed that these countries have better legal oversight mechanisms to prevent illegal interception of information using spyware.

To watch the full deposition visit pegasus-india-investigation.in.