Delhi HC Issues Notice On PIL Seeking Guidelines On Tracing, Tapping And Surveillance Of Phone Calls [Read Petition]
The Delhi High Court on Tuesday sought response of the Centre on a petition demanding a probe by a Special Investigation Team or by the Centre into the abuse of powers by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials by illegally tapping the phones of high ranking officials.
The Petition also seeks a direction to Government to frame comprehensive guidelines regarding tracing, tapping and surveillance of phone calls along with preparation of stocks and accountability of officials and
The bench comprising Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice VK Rao also issued notice to the CBI.
The petition, filed by Supreme Court Advocate Sarthak Chaturvedi also seeks framing of comprehensive guidelines regarding tracing, tapping and surveillance of phone calls, along with preparation of stocks and accountability of officials.
The unit involved in phone tapping and technical surveillance in the CBI is known as the Special Unit (SU), and it is headed by a DIG rank official. At the relevant time, the said unit, according to the petition, was headed by Rakesh Rathi, IPS, DIG, SU. Rathi reported to AK Sharma, head of the AC zone and policy division and eventually to Alok Verma, Director, CBI. Another official namely Manish Sinha IPS, was also DIG and was head of the branch of AC-III, New Delhi who also reported to Sharma, AC zone.
Tracing the infamous CBI v/s CBI battle, the petition now alleges that the SU had at that time placed several numbers on technical surveillance and was analysing call data records. To this end, it highlights the information put forth through an application filed by IPS Sinha before the Supreme Court in Alok Kumar Verma Vs. Union of India & Anr, and questions the source of this information, if not through surveillance.
For instance, it asks, "On 17.10.2018, the Director CBI briefed Sh. Ajit Doval, NSA and informed him that Sh.RakeshAsthana's name is cited in the FIR. Subsequently on the same night, it was informed by Special Unit to Sh.ManishSinha that NSA has informed Sh.RakeshAsthana about registration of FIR. It was informed that Sh.RakeshAsthana reportedly made a request to NSA that he should not be arrested.
How did Special unit learnt this? Did they illegally intercept calls of NSA and Sh. Rakesh Asthana? (sic)"
As for the legislation covering the subject, it points out that Section 5(2) of The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 does lay down the eventuality and circumstances in which the tracing, tapping and surveillance of phone calls and messages are governed in India. As per the provision, such surveillance is permitted only in cases involving: (i) sovereignty and integrity of India; (ii) security of the state; (iii) friendly relations with foreign states; (iv) public order; and (v) preventing incitement to the commission of an offence.
The petition then submits that no such circumstance prevailed for the CBI to track phone calls in the cases highlighted by it. This, the petition submits, reveals conduct unbecoming to a public servant and also reveals formation of a syndicate to malign the organisation.
With such assertions, the petition contends that the lack of any stringent policy or action plan or guidelines to deal with the menace of tracing, tapping and surveillance of phone calls by the CBI "effects the national security and intelligence which in turn is going to put the lives and security of nation and it's citizen thereto at peril".
The vacuum in policy, it asserts, bestows upon public servants uncontrolled and unaccountable powers to abuse and misuse the interception for purposes other than for which permission was obtained.
Read the Petition Here