Phone taps not covered under RTI
4 Oct 2007, 0116 hrs IST,Viju B,TNN
MUMBAI: If you suspect the government machinery is tapping your phone and you want to get information about it under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, you may be in for a disappointment.
The State Information Commission (SIC) in Maharashtra, in a landmark order, has turned down the final appeal of an applicant who felt that his two mobile phones were being tapped.
Vile Parle resident Omprakash H Yadav had, in his RTI query in April, sought information from the principal information officer of the state home department on the suspected tapping of his phones in the last three years. Yadav wanted to know whether the mobiles had been tapped and, if yes, for what reason and under which legal provisions.
While giving a detailed order on the legal provisions of phone-tapping, the SIC dismissed the appeal saying the state was empowered to do so without the consent of the individual in accordance with a Supreme Court judgment.
Earlier, responding to the query, the information officer had informed Yadav that the information could not be given to him in keeping with an exemption under Section 8(1) of the RTI Act, 2005. In May, Yadav appealed before the appellate authority contending that he was deemed a suspect as the information was not given.
Turning down the appeal, the appellate authority clarified that not disclosing the tapping of telephone numbers did not mean that the government considered the information seeker a suspect. Yadav approached the SIC for the final appeal.
The SIC, during the hearing, referred to a Supreme Court order in the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) versus Union of India case.
The apex court stated that under the Indian Telegraph Act, the central government or designated officers of the state dispensation could be authorised to intercept messages during emergency or in the interest of public safety. "But the order shall not be issued by a person less than the rank of home secretary or not below the rank of joint secretary. The order, unless renewed, shall ceased to be in effect at the end of two months and the total operation shall not exceed more than six months," the judgment had said.
"Thus, it is clear beyond doubt that telephone tapping is a secret affair carried out in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of the country. The appellate officer has rightly turned down the contention of the appellant and the appeal is dismissed," the order said.
Tapped into it
Thursday, October 04, 2007 21:50 IST DNA
What many consider Independent India’s most progressive legislation — the Right to Information Act — is in serious danger of being crippled. First bureaucrats tried to defang it by seeking to keep their file notings outside the purview of the Act.
Then several other agencies, like the Armed Forces, wanted an exception to be made in their case. Last week, the Central Information Commission (CIC) ruled that the nation’s machinery of justice — judicial proceedings of courts and tribunals, which are of central concern to every citizen — will not come under the RTI radar.
And now, the state information commissioner (SIC), in a landmark judgment, has ruled that the state has the right to tap the phones of any individual without consent and that ordinary citizens cannot use the RTI to ascertain whether this is being done and, if so, the reasons for it.
The SIC has ruled that such information is ‘classified’ and cannot be divulged under the RTI. The case concerned a private individual who suspected that his two mobile phones were being tapped. When he approached the public information officer, his application was turned down, and the SIC upheld the denial citing a Supreme Court judgment of 1991, which held that the state had the right to intercept messages of private citizens in the interests of ‘security, sovereignty and public order’.
Clearly, the SIC has chosen to take the conservative route on this issue, upholding the government’s contention that no details about such tapping should be released. Yet, this was an opportunity to stretch the RTI. Phone tapping by itself is not objectionable, if it is done in the course of law and order or intelligence investigations.
There are strict norms laid down for phone tapping: orders for it can be issued only by bureaucrats of a certain rank and only for six months at a time, and so on. Yet, the scope for misuse does exist, not only in substance, but also in procedure.
How is the victim of such tapping to know that his phones are being tapped in accordance with the said norms, and not, say, out of malice? And what if — and this is not an outlandish idea — such tapping is being done without following the regulatory procedure?
The RTI is a piece of legislation that can and has helped to make Indian democracy more vibrant, by empowering the common man and handing him a weapon through which he can demand accountability from government bodies.
Persistent attempts by various arms of the government to dilute the RTI have not succeeded enough to reduce the importance and efficacy of the Act. But a more liberal approach would give citizens confidence that the Act can help improve governance further.
My phone is being tapped 24X7 for the last 4 months. One Deputy Superintendent of Police (West Bengal) is misusing the system for his personal benefit and causing lot of harassment for me. Strict actions should be taken to prevent such misuse. But the question is 'how?'.