Phone tapping in India and ludicrous denial.

Desktop Phone InstrumentStatements made in Parliament of India on 26 April, 2010 about alleged phone tapping without proper compliance of law.

श्री लाल कृष्ण आडवाणी :  हमारी बहुत बड़ी ताकत लोकतंत्र है। मैं कभी भूल नहीं सकूंगा कि इस देश में 19 महीने ऐसे बीते जिसमें लोकतंत्र सस्पेंडिड था, देश के दो पूर्व प्रधानमंत्री श्री अटल बिहारी वाजपेयी और श्री चन्द्रशेखर जेल के भीतर थे।…( व्यवधान) मैं प्रधानमंत्रियों की बात कह रहा हूं। आप भी थे और हजारों लाखों लोग थे। वह काल ऐसा था जब फोन टेपिंग बहुत बड़ा अपराध नहीं माना जाता था, यह रोज होता है, ऐसी कोई बात नहीं। जब 1975 के 20 साल पूरे हुए तो 25 जून को अटल बिहारी वाजपेयी जी ने प्रेस कांफ्रेंस करके कहा –

“I have known for a long time, that my phone as well as that of my party colleague Advani have been under surveillance. But lately I have gathered that the telephones of many other senior leaders like Chaudhary Charan Singh, Jagjivan Ram and Chandra Shekhar and journalists like G.K. Reddy, Arun Shourie, Kuldip Nayar and G.S. Chawla also are being regularly tapped. But what has really left me flabbergasted is that the Intelligence Bureau has had the temerity to tap the telephones of the President and the Chief Justice also. All this is not only politically immoral but unconstitutional and illegal also.”

This is a statement made by Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee in a Press Conference on the 25th June, 1995, 20 years after the Emergency. Now, suddenly, we discover this.… (Interruptions)

The Outlook  has come out with a full story saying that the telephones of a Junior Minister, telephones of a Chief Minister, telephones of a Congress Office-Bearer and the telephones of the CPI (M) Leader Shri Prakash Karat have also been tapped. Here is this Outlook story. I am not going to quote the whole thing. I feel that this is something which is extremely serious. On this, no one else but we would like to hear the Prime Minister.… (Interruptions)

This House will not be satisfied until the Prime Minister comes to the House and give the explanation on this. This is my appeal to you, Madam. I feel that you also should help the Parliament in insisting upon the authority of Parliament and seeing that the Executive responds.… (Interruptions)  I am not going to quote what the Supreme Court has said.

The Supreme Court also had given a judgement in this regard as to what is the authority given by the Indian Telegraphs Act to the Executive as to what it can do and what it cannot do. I feel satisfied that when the NDA Government was there, it laid down very clear guidelines as to what can be done and what cannot be done.

I feel what has been done now is a clear violation of the Supreme Court’s directives which have been now incorporated in the law also. The Supreme Court clarified it very clearly. I quote:

“Section 5 (2) of the Indian Telegraph Act does not confer unguided and unbridled power on the investigating agencies to invade a person’s privacy. Telephone tapping is only permitted in two circumstances, on the occurrence of a public emergency in the interest of public safety and that too if it is in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, preventing incitement to the commission of an offence. Otherwise, the Central or State Government cannot resort to arbitrary phone tapping.”

This is what the Supreme Court had said. Having said that, what is being done now is a total violation of the Supreme Court’s judgement and, therefore, nothing short of a clear statement by the Prime Minister that this will not be done is required. Not only that. I would plead with you and, through you, to the Government that let there be a new law in this regard which completely eliminates all the possibilities of abuse of the Government’s executive authority in this regard.

Democracy has to be defended. We must ensure that there is no such emergency once again in the country. We will not suffer it and, therefore, nothing short of a categorical statement by the Prime Minister in this regard will satisfy the House.

Reply by THE MINISTER OF HOME AFFAIRS

(SHRI P. CHIDAMBARAM): National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) is a technical organization of the Government, and I make the statement on behalf of the Government. … (Interruptions)

A Group of Ministers had recommended for such an organization be set up.  The Organisation was notified on April 15, 2004. … (Interruptions) Government have seen the allegations against the NTRO contained in the story in Outlook magazine of May 3, 2010.  I wish to state categorically that no telephone tapping or eavesdropping on political leaders was authorized by the previous UPA Government.  Nor has the present UPA Government authorized any such activity.  … (Interruptions)

After the issue of the magazine was available late Friday, April 23, 2010, the allegations in the story were thoroughly enquired into.  Nothing has been found in the records of the NTRO or elsewhere to substantiate the allegations. … (Interruptions)

Our intelligence agencies function within the law.  They are fully accountable to the Government.  Under the Telegraphs Act and the Information Technology Act, each case of monitoring of telephone or electronic communications has to be approved by the Union Home Secretary personally and is subject to review by an Oversight Committee chaired by the Cabinet Secretary. … (Interruptions) Such monitoring as may be necessary to fight crime, for national security, or for our counter-terrorism effort, is subject to multiple checks and oversight. … (Interruptions)  Both this Government and the previous UPA Government have respected and upheld the laws of the land.  We are committed to defending the rights of every Indian citizen including the right to privacy and will uphold the rights of the individual citizen enshrined in the Constitution of India. … (Interruptions)

Further enquiries are being made into the allegations in the magazine.  … (Interruptions)  If any evidence is forthcoming or discovered, the matter will be thoroughly investigated by the appropriate agencies. … (interruptions)

My question:

Since there was complete denial by the Minister I have one question:

If Outlook magazine had published a hoax story about phone tapping why no action was taken against it?

Related Posts:

Read the second post below about co-incidence of being 26th April.
I miss the Surveillance
Privacy and double standards

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About Sandeep Bhalla

A lawyer, thinker, author, Linux/Ubuntu power user and sometime an economist or gardener or philosopher or cook or photographer depending upon the current thought and environment. View all posts by Sandeep Bhalla

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