In the Era of Digital Communication, Telephone – Tapping is a serious invasion of an individual’s privacy. With the growth of highly sophisticated communication technology, the right to sold telephone conversation, in the privacy of one’s home or office without interference, is increasingly susceptible to abuse. It is no doubt correct that every Government, howsoever democratic, exercises some degree of sub-rosa operation as a part of its intelligence outfit but at the same time citizen’s right to privacy has to be protected from being abused by, she authorities of the day. Although Phone Tapping is a debatable issue in India, as it directly infringes one’s Right to Privacy, which is a fundamental right of every Indian.
However, meanwhile in Maharashtra, As Smt. Rashmi Shukla, IPS Officer alleged to be leaked the confidential data of intercepts, which create a whirl in Maharashtra Politics. In this background let’s travel to revisit the issue of Phone Tapping.
The term “phone tapping” means interception of the contents of communication through a secret connection to the telephone line of one whose conversations are to be monitored usually without the consent of the person whose communication is monitored. Here, the question arises about the violation of the right of privacy of individuals. Every act without the consent of the person termed as an illegal act by a private person or public officer but in the case of public emergency or in the interest of public safety does not need any consent.
While it is moral and ethical not to peep in some one’s privacy but when it comes to sovereignty and Internal security of the state, the state has every Legal right to do so.
Life and liberty are not empty words; they include all those necessary ingredients which give meaning to them. Privacy of a person is a part of his life and liberty under our Constitution. Any invasion of this right, which is fundamental in nature, can be done only according to the constitutional limitations.
The act of telephone tapping affects right to privacy as well as right to freedom of speech and expression, both are Fundamental Rights under the Constitution. Art 21 of the Constitution.
Therefore, not only substantive law but even the procedure should satisfy the constitutional test. The power of interception of communication can be resorted to, when it is necessary or expedient so to do in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign state, public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of an offence.
PHONE TAPPING, RIGHT TO PRIVACY AND THE JUDICIARY
The Judiciary of India, have time to time uphold the right to privacy, Courts in its order/judgments have observed that any private conversations of any individual have to be protected unless it is disturbing the National Security and Sovereignty.
However, The process related to the right to privacy began in Kharak Singh v. State of U.P., where the court discussed the relationship between surveillance and personal and found that unauthorized intrusion into a person’s home would interfere with his/her right to personal liberty.
The right to privacy here was conceived around the home, and unauthorized intrusions into homes were seen as interference with the right to personal liberty. The court recognized “the right to the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects” and declared that their right against unreasonable searches and seizures was not to be violated.
Further, in People`S Union vs The Union of India And Another, the court ruled that telephone tapping would violate Article21 of the Indian Constitution unless it was permitted by the procedure established by law and that it would also violate the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 unless it came within the restrictions permitted by Article19(2) & has issued certain guidelines-
1. An order for telephone-tapping in terms of Section 5(2) of the Act shall not be issued except by the Home Secretary, Government of India (Central Government) and Home Secretaries of the State Governments. In an urgent case the power may be delegated to an officer of the Home Department the Government of India and the State Governments not below the rank of Joint Secretary. Copy of the order shall be sent to the Review Committee concerned with one week of the passing of the order-.
2. The order shall require the person to whom it is addressed to intercept in the course of their transmission by means a public telecommunication system, such communications as are described in the order. The order may also require the person to whom it is addressed to disclose the intercepted material to such persons and in such manner as are described in the order.
3. The matters to be taken into account in considering whether an order is necessary under Section list of the Act shall include whether the information which is considered necessary to acquire could reasonably be acquired by other means.
4. The interception required under Section 5(2) of the Act shall be the interception of such communications as are sent to or from one or more addresses specified in the order belong an address or addresses likely to be used for the transmission of communications to or from, from one particular person specified or described in the order or one particular set of premises described in the order.
5. The order under Section 5(9) of the Act shall, unless renewed, case to have effect at the end of the period of two month from the date of issue. The authority which issued the order may, at any time before the end of two-month period renew the order if it by the State Government.
(a) The Committee shall on its own, within two months of the passing of the order by the authority concerned, investigate whether there is or has been a relevant order under Section 5(2) of the Act. Where there is or has been an order whether there has been any contravention of the provisions of Section 5(2) of the Act.
(b) If on an investigation the Committee concludes that there has been a contravention of the provisions of Section 5(2) of the Act, it shall set aside the order under scrutiny of the Committee. It shall further direct the destruction of the copies of the intercepted material.
(c) If on investigation, the Committee comes to the conclusion that there has been no contravention of the provisions of Section considers that it is necessary to continue the order in terms of Section 5(2) of the Act. The total period for the operation of the order shall not exceed six months.
6. The authority which issued the order shall maintain the following records:
(a) the intercepted communications,
(b) the extent to which the material is disclosed,
(c) the number of persons and their identity to whom any of the material is disclosed.
(d) the extent to which the material is copied and
(e) the number of copies made of any of the material.
7. The use of the intercepted material shall be limited to the minimum that is necessary in terms of Section 5(2) of the Act.
8. Each copy made of any of the intercepted material shall be destroyed as soon as its retention is no longer necessary in terms of Section 5(2) of the Act.
9. There shall be a Review Committee consisting of Cabinet Secretary, the Law Secretary and the Secretary, Telecommunication at the level of the Central Government. The Review Committee at the State level shall consist of Chief Secretary, Law Secretary and another member, other than the Home Secretary, appointed 5(2) of the Act, it shall record the finding to that effect.
Further, in the case of K.L.D Nagasree v. Government of India (2006), while referring the ruling of the Court in the P.U.C.L case, it was held that “For the reason of making an order for interception of messages in the exercise of powers under Section 5(1) and (2) of the Telegraph Act, 1885 the happening of any public emergency or the existence of a public safety interest is the sine qua non (mandatory).”
PHONE TAPPING: ONLY IN CASE OF NATIONAL SECURITY AND THREAT TO SOVEREIGNTY
In 2019, The Bombay High Court in Vinit Kumar vs State of Maharashtra held that tapping of telephones was only allowed in cases of public emergency or public safety. Observing that illegal phone tapping was an infringement of the fundamental right to privacy, the court quashed three orders passed by the Union Home Ministry allowing investigating agencies to intercept the calls of a businessman involved in a bribery case.
In light of the above, it can be said that there is no legal impediment in recording the telephonic conversation with prior written consent of all the parties to the telephonic conversation and the same is not in violation of right to privacy enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution and shall also be outside the ambit of interception.
Interception in the general sense means monitoring of such information by means of a monitoring device or viewing, examination or inspection of the contents of any direct or indirect information and diversion of any direct or indirect information from its intended destination to any other destination. Remedies that are available to aggrieved persons can be that in cases where unlawful interception infringes the right to privacy then the aggrieved person can file a complaint in the Human Rights Commission.
For now, the Indian public has gradually become aware of possible privacy violations that could be caused by technology and they know for prevention and investigation of crimes or in maintaining the sovereignty, integrity, and security of the state or if such information discloses clues and evidence of a crime or scandal, they have to be pursued.
An FIR can be lodged under the IT Act & telegraph act, when illicit phone interception comes into the knowledge of the person. Moreover, the aggrieved person can move to the Court against the person or company doing the Act. Therefore, in India, phone tapping has to be approved by a designated authority and it is illegal otherwise.
The Author is Executive Member of Maharashtra BJP Executive Committee – Legal Cell.
The term ‘phone tapping’ means interception of the contents of communication through a secret connection to the telephone line of one whose conversations are to be monitored usually without the consent of the person whose communication is monitored. Here, the question arises about the violation of the right of privacy of individuals. Every act without the consent of the person is termed illegal by a private person or public officer but in the case of public emergency or in the interest of public safety does not need any consent.