DoT moots up to Rs 2 crore penalty on unlawful phone tapping

New Delhi, Jan 16 (PTI) Amid a debate over phone-tappingand making conversations public without authorisation, theTelecom Ministry has proposed a penalty of up to Rs 2 crore onunlawfully tapping, as against just Rs 500 at present.

In a communique to the Prime Minister''s Office (PMO), theDepartment of Telecom (DoT) has proposed the imposition of apenalty between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 2 crore for breaches underdifferent sections of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.

For breach of Section 26 of the Act, which prohibitstelegraph officers or other officials from making away with oraltering, unlawfully intercepting or disclosing messages, ordivulging the purport of signals, the maximum penalty has beenproposed.

As per the existing Act, any breach of this sectionattracts imprisonment, which may extend up to three years,along with a fine of Rs 500.

The proposed amendment to the Indian Telegraph Act islikely to be tabled in Parliament soon.

Amendments to the Indian Telegraph Rules for electronicprovision and collection of Call Data Records (CDRs) have alsobeen proposed. A decision is likely to be taken on theseamendments by the end of the coming Budget session ofParliament, says the DoT communication to the PMO.

The move assumes significance in the wake of the NiiraRadia tapes and their leakage to the media.

In fact, noted industrialist Ratan Tata criticised thegovernment''s "lackadaisical attitude" to the leakage of histapped telephonic conversations with corporate lobbyist Radiain the Supreme Court, alleging it remained least botheredabout the violation of an individual''s privacy in the entireepisode.

He voiced the criticism in an affidavit filed in the apexcourt in response to the government''s reply to his petition,seeking protection of his right to privacy, which is linked toa citizen''s fundamental right to life.

Tata''s comments came in the wake of some magazinespublishing transcripts of conversations between Radia andseveral industry leaders, politicians and journalists, whichwere intercepted by government agencies.

The Tata Group, one of the parties mentioned in theconversations, had sought legal redressal from thepublications for making private conversations betweenindividuals public.

The DoT note also highlights that under the TelegraphAct, there is a provision to destroy the copies ofcommunication intercepted by the government in case the reviewcommittee -- mandated to meet at least once in two months --finds that the interception is not in accordance with theprovisions of the Indian Telegraph Act and Rules. .

The DoT has also completely ruled out any increase of the liability on the telecom service providers, saying theprovisions already exist and are stringent enough todiscourage the repeat of any such act of leaking or makingpublic any such private conversation in future.

A penalty of up to Rs 50 crore can be levied on telecomservice providers for breach of any licensee terms andconditions. As such, a reasonable deterrent exists againstunlawful interception and monitoring in the existing laws andin the terms and conditions of the licence issued to varioustelecom service providers, the note added.

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