Thursday, May 26, 2011

Illegal Phone Tapping In India Under Scrutiny

Phone Tapping in India has been in controversies for long. Whether it is Illegal Phone Tapping by Private Individuals or Unaccountable Phone Tapping by Indian Government and its Agencies, Phone Tapping in India has never been smooth.

On the front of Legal Framework as well we have no Dedicated and Constitutionally Sound Lawful Interception Law in India. The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and other similar Laws are not in “Conformity” with the Constitution of India, especially Fundamental Rights of Indians. Even the Home Ministry of India is considering enactment of a Lawful Interception Law in India.

On the top of it we have Central Monitoring System of India (CMS of India). It is suffice to say that this Unconstitutional Phone Tapping in India and Illegal E-Surveillance in India is a “Constitutional Failure of India”. India urgently needs a Valid Phone Tapping Law.

Now the Central Government has shown some concerns regarding Illegal Phone Tapping happening openly in India. The Centre has asked the Government Agencies and State Governments to return all surveillance equipment. The Home Ministry of India has now issued directions in this regard.

All Central and State Monitoring Agencies have been told to return any GSM equipment used for illegal tapping of phones back to the Department of Telecommunications (DOT). A secret MHA advisory to all State Police Departments says there will be crackdown on private individuals as well, which means Corporate India is included.

A DOT advisory dated December 31, 2010 to return the illegally imported equipment had evinced a poor response. In fact, till six months ago, passive interception machines could be easily imported under the Open General Licence. It's now been placed in the restricted list.

The Department of Revenue Intelligence suspects there are over 1100 machines that have been imported in the past 3 years alone. But the exercise could be a shot in the dark as the end users of these machines are still being traced. In fact, an internal audit by the CAG of the NTRO had revealed that these machines were placed more frequently in cities rather then the international borders or even in naxal or insurgency hit areas - for which they were acquired. This has given rise to suspicion that they were being used for tapping political and corporate rivals. Let us see how effective these directions of Home Ministry would be in preventing Illegal Phone Tapping and E-Surveillance in India.

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