THE CONTEXT: The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology will question officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on July 28 in connection with reports about the illegal surveillance using Pegasus spyware.
- The IT Panel will hold the meeting on ““citizens’ data security and privacy”. The parliamentary panel is headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor.
- The Pegasus spyware is developed, marketed and licensed to governments around the world by the Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO Group.
- The company says that it licenses its software only to “vetted governments” and that Pegasus is meant to be targeted at criminals.
- On 18 July, a leaked list of 50,000 potential targets of the spyware, “concentrated in countries known to engage in surveillance of their citizens” was released.
- The list was accessed by Paris-based media nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, which shared it with 17 news organisations as part of the Pegasus Project.
ABOUT PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEES
- Both Houses of Parliament have a similar committee structure, with a few exceptions. Their appointment, terms of office, functions and procedure of conducting business are also more or less similar and are regulated as per rules made by the two Houses under Article 118(1) of the Constitution.
- Broadly, Parliamentary Committees are of two kinds – Standing Committees and ad hoc Committees. The former are elected or appointed every year or periodically and their work goes on, more or less, on a continuous basis. The latter are appointed on an ad hoc basis as need arises and they cease to exist as soon as they complete the task assigned to them.
- Standing Committees: Among the Standing Committees, the three Financial Committees – Committees on Estimates, Public Accounts and Public Undertakings – constitute a distinct group as they keep an unremitting vigil over Government expenditure and performance. While members of the Rajya Sabha are associated with Committees on Public Accounts and Public Undertakings, the members of the Committee on Estimates are drawn entirely from the Lok Sabha.
- Besides these three Financial Committees, the Rules Committee of the Lok Sabha recommended setting-up of 17 Department Related Standing Committees (DRSCs). Accordingly, 17 Department Related Standing Committees were set up on 8 April 1993. In July 2004, rules were amended to provide for the constitution of seven more such committees, thus raising the number of DRSCs from 17 to 24. The functions of these Committees are:
- To consider the Demands for Grants of various Ministries/Departments of Government of India and make reports to the Houses;
- To examine such Bills as are referred to the Committee by the Chairman, Rajya Sabha or the Speaker, Lok Sabha, as the case may be, and make reports thereon;
- To consider Annual Reports of ministries/departments and make reports thereon; and
- To consider policy documents presented to the Houses, if referred to the Committee by the Chairman, Rajya Sabha or the Speaker, Lok Sabha, as the case may be, and make reports.
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