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Spell out steps to plug leakage of phone taps: SC


New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday pulled up the government for not stating the mechanism it had put in place to guard against leakage of telephone intercepts of people under surveillance.

“What is the mechanism to arrest the leakage,” the court asked the government.

The apex court bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya told Additional Solicitor General (ASG) A.S. Chandhiok that what they had before them from the government were only the details about the meetings held and it did not spell out steps to thwart leakage of intercepts.

“You have to tell the steps that no wrong is done in the future,” the court told the ASG.

The court was hearing a petition by Tata group chief Ratan Tata contending that the publication of the transcripts of former corporate lobbyist Niira Radia’s tapped telephonic conversation by media violated his right to privacy.

As the court chided the government’s lackadaisical approach, the court asked the ASG to tell what steps had been taken to plug the leakage of telephonic intercepts of people under the surveillance of government agencies.

“The question we are asking right from the beginning is what steps you have taken to prevent the leakage,” Justice Mukhopadhaya said, adding that mere holding of meeting did not amount to steps taken.

“Meeting holding is not steps taken,” the court observed.

The government told the court that there was no leakage from its side, Tata’s senior counsel Harish Salve said that then the phone “service provider should have been taken to task”.

“You are a state and are supposed to be ahead (of others) in taking steps to prevent the leakage of telephonic intercepts,” the court told the ASG.

The court said this when Chandhiok told the court that that even as one takes the steps to plug the electronic intrusion, a new technology comes rendering outdated the existing mechanism for plugging intrusion.

The court rejected Chandhiok’s contention that Tata’s petition was not maintainable as no prayer remained to be addressed.

“We have heard this petition for quite some time now and we will not dismiss it on mere technicality. We are on the substance of this petition and we will decide the issue raised,” the court told the ASG.

Salve questioned the procedure followed by the government in tapping Radia’s telephones, the court asked the ASG to inform the court if the procedure given under Section 419-A (1) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1951, was followed.

Radia and her associates’ phones were put under surveillance by the income tax department after the home ministry received an anonymous letter alleging her foreign connection and her spectacular rise in a short span of few years. Following the said anonymous letter, the income tax department was asked to investigate the matter.