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Phone Tapping

Context:

Recently, a political leader claimed that the Centre is protecting an Indian Police Service officer who is facing a First Information Report (FIR) in Mumbai and is being probed for allegedly tapping the phones.

Relevance:

GS II- Government Policies and Interventions, Transparency and Accountability

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is Phone tapping
  2. How are phones tapped in India?
  3. Who can tap phones?
  4. Who authorises phone tapping?

What is Phone tapping?

  • Phone tapping or cell phone tracking an activity where a user’s phone calls, and other activities are tracked using different software.
  • This procedure is majorly carried out without the targeted person being notified of any such activity.

Phone tapping in India is governed by the The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.

  • Section 5(2) says that “on the occurrence of any public emergency, or in the interest of the public safety”, phone tapping can be done by the Centre or states if they are satisfied it is necessary in the interest of “public safety”, “sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of an offence”.
  • There is an exception for the press: “press messages intended to be published in India of correspondents accredited to the Central Government or a State Government shall not be intercepted or detained, unless their transmission has been prohibited under this sub-section”.
  • The competent authority must record reasons for tapping in writing.

How are phones tapped in India?

  • In the era of fixed-line phones, mechanical exchanges would link circuits together to route the audio signal from the call.
  • When exchanges went digital, tapping was done through a computer.
  • When most conversations happen through mobile phones, authorities make a request to the service provider, which is bound by law to record the conversations on the given number and provide these in real time through a connected computer.

Who can tap phones?

States:

Police have the powers to tap phones.

Centre:

  • 10 agencies are authorised to do so: Intelligence Bureau, CBI, Enforcement Directorate, Narcotics Control Bureau, Central Board of Direct Taxes, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, National Investigation Agency, R&AW, Directorate of Signal Intelligence, and the Delhi Police Commissioner.
  • Tapping by any other agency would be considered illegal.

Who authorises phone tapping?

  • Rule 419A of the Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Rules, 2007, says phone tapping orders “shall not be issued except by an order made by the Secretary to the Government of India in the Ministry of Home Affairs in the case of Government of India and by the Secretary to the State Government in-charge of the Home Department in the case of a State Government”.
  • The order has to conveyed to the service provider in writing; only then can the tapping begin.

What happens in an emergency?

  • In unavoidable circumstances, such an order may be issued by an officer, not below the rank of a Joint Secretary to the Government of India, who has been authorised by the Union Home Secretary, or the State Home Secretary.
  • In remote areas or for operational reasons, if it is not feasible to get prior directions, a call can be intercepted with the prior approval of the head or the second senior-most officer of the authorised law enforcement agency at the central level, and by authorised officers, not below the rank of Inspector General of Police, at the state level.
  • The order has to be communicated within three days to the competent authority, who has to approve or disapprove it within seven working days. “If the confirmation from the competent authority is not received within the stipulated seven days, such interception shall cease,” the rule says.

-Source: Indian Express

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September 2022
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