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Govt taps 9,000 phones every month: Is it invasion of privacy or vendetta politics?

By Reetu

Govt taps 9,000 phones every month.
Nearly 9,000 phones are being tapped in India every month on the orders of union government as it issues nearly 7,500-9,000 telephone interception on an average each month. This number is not really worrisome as in a population of millions this is merely an iota. But at the same time, this tapping of phones can be a bit problematic too as it is also a serious violation of a citizen's civil liberties.

The data has been revealed by a report on India's surveillance laws and mechanisms released at the Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul on Wednesday.

As per a TOI report, the report on on India's surveillance laws and mechanisms said, "Extrapolating this number to include all interception orders issued by the central and state governments combined, it becomes clear that Indian citizens are routinely and discreetly subjected to government surveillance on a truly staggering scale."

Who can do the phone tapping and the required procedure

Phone tapping, also known as ‘wire-tapping' in some countries which allows secretly listening or recording a telephone conversation in order to get information can only be done in an authorized manner with permission from the concerned department. If the same is done in an unauthorised manner, without the proper procedure, then it is considered illegal and can also result in prosecution of the person for breach of privacy.

Under section 5 of Indian Telegraphic Act, 1885, both the Central and State Governments have a right to tap phones but only in case of "public emergency, or in the interest of public safety." According to Rule 419 A of the Indian Telegraph rules 1951, a "lawful order" for interception can be issued by the Union home secretary at the Centre or a State home secretary at the states.

There are seven Central agencies authorised to tap telephones - the IB, ED, Delhi Police, CBI, DRI, Central Economic Intelligence Bureau and the Narcotics Control Bureau.

And in case an investigating authority or agency wants to tap the phone, they need to seek permission from the Home Ministry to do the same. And even proper reasons have to be given to explain how this will further help in investigating a particular case which decides whether the permission will be granted or not.

Phone tapping - An invasion of Right to privacy?

Tapping phones is essential in cases involving national security, but these days governments in power also do the same to keep tabs on politicians and others. Such activities if misused, could also fall under the purview of unlawful means and would be construed as an invasion into the privacy of an individual.

The reasons should be strong before passing such an order and the invasion of privacy shall be minimum in nature and if the same is not followed such an order can be subject to a court review.

"Phone tapping is a legal instrument. It should be kept in safe custody of the court or very few officers should have access to it. Leaking tapes are like leaking official secrets; it not only adversely affects an individual but is also harmful to investigations and the prosecution process," Arun Bhagat, former director, IB was quoted as saying in an India Today report.

What does the law say

To tap a phone, the home secretary or the state government has to issue an order to authorise the tapping of the phone. And the decision has to be reviewed by the Cabinet secretary, law secretary and telecommunication secretary also.

The same has to be reviewed in two months failing which fresh orders are passed. The law also states that the records relating to phone tapping should be used and destroyed within two months.

In 1997, the Supreme Court, in response to a petition filed by justice Sachar, laid down five precepts for intercepting conversations-in the interests of national sovereignty and integrity, state security, friendly relations with foreign states, public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of an offence.

Government should not indulge in vendetta politics

In the past, many cases of snooping came to fore and much hyped amongst those were Arun Jaitley's phone tapping case, snooping case of BJP leaders by US and the alleged snooping of a girl at the behest of Gujarat government. The incumbent government unlike its predecessor UPA government must not indulge in vendetta politics.

Rather than indulging into such political ploys, the government must make stricter laws so that no one can misuse an individual's sensitive or confidential information.

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