Government may tighten phone tapping norms


New Delhi: The government is likely to make phone tapping norms more stringent, including prohibiting it for detecting income tax evasions, after recommendations from a panel headed by Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrashekhar.

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“The law does not permit use of telephone tapping and monitoring of conversations to merely detect tax evasion,” said a statement from the cabinet secretary’s office, detailing the recommendations.

“There are specific laws and rules that contain provisions for detection of unaccounted wealth and evasion of taxes, and interception of telephones without ‘public emergency’ or ‘public safety’ being at stake is not in accordance with the law,” the statement said.

The cabinet secretary, citing Supreme Court rulings, has recommended that the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) should be removed from the list of government agencies that can ask for phone tapping.

“Either remove the CBDT from the list of authorised agencies…. or specify stipulations regarding the extent of surveillance allowed to the agency, including the level at which requests are to be made for authorisation by the home secretary.”

Chandrashekhar headed the panel of secretaries formed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh following a controversy stirred by the leakage of tapped telephonic conversations of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia.

Radia’s phone was put under surveillance between 2008-2009 by the CBDT. Her conversations with politicians, journalists and business leaders form an important evidence in the government’s probe into the 2G spectrum probe.

“After examining all the relevant issues, the cabinet secretary recommended further comprehensive refinement of rules and procedures, in addition to providing for stronger penal provisions for violations by amending the law,” the statement said.

Quoting a Supreme Court order, the panel has said that “economic emergency” might not necessarily amount to a “public emergency” and justify phone tapping.

It said that “public safety means the state of condition of freedom from danger or risk for the people at large. When either of these two conditions are not in existence, authorities cannot resort to telephone tapping,” the statement said.

The statement said the recommendations made by the cabinet secretary “should not be seen in terms of conflicts between individuals or interest groups” as reported by the media.