The Standing Committee on Home Affairs has come to the rescue of politicians so that their phone cannot be tapped without strict compliance with highest standards of care and precautions. However, the ordinary man is still left high and dry as he has no procedural safeguards to protect his privacy and personal communications.
Through a report, the Standing Committee on Home Affairs took note of incidents of unauthorised phone tapping and getting call data records of some prominent individuals including politicians for ulterior motives and said such incidents should not occur in future.
The committee has recommended that phones of MPs should be tapped by security agencies only after taking permission from presiding officers of the House concerned while in case of other political leaders, party chiefs must be informed. The Committee directed the Home Ministry to make strict guidelines in this regard.
This would practically mean that phones of MPs and political leaders cannot be tapped by law enforcement and security agencies of India unless there is extreme accountability and transparency in the process. This also means that there cannot be any secret phone tapping of these VIPs.
We appreciate this effort of the Committee. However, we failed to understand why common man is left out of this protection circle when the Indian Constitution mandates so? This seems to be discrimination and procedural safeguards must also be introduced for ordinary citizens of India.
Meanwhile, the government is planning to go ahead with its ambitious but controversial project named central monitoring system (CMS) project of India that would allow the Indian government and law enforcement and intelligence agencies to engage in unlimited and at will e-surveillance upon Indian citizens.
The CMS project of India is also not subject to any parliamentary scrutiny and is not supported by any legal framework. Just like Aadhaar project, it would be imposed upon Indian citizens without any fight for human rights protections in cyberspace.
We have been maintaining that a lawful and Constitutional interception law in India is needed as soon as possible. Lawful interception law in India is still missing. We have no constitutionally sound phone tapping and lawful interception law in India.
Both Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and the Information Technology Act, 2000 carries many “unconstitutional provisions” that are openly abused by law enforcement and intelligence agencies of India. Both Telegraph Act and IT Act, 2000 need to be repealed and constitutionally sound lawful interception laws need to be enacted by Indian Parliament as soon as possible.
Further, dedicated privacy laws, data protection laws, data security laws and cyber security laws in India must also be enacted in India as soon as possible. Besides calls data records, the cell site data location laws in India and privacy issues must be suitably regulated by a new law. The cell site location based e-surveillance in India and surveillance of internet traffic in India must also be part and parcel of a new legislation. In short, India must reconcile civil liberties and national security requirements.
The Home Ministry must also keep in mind all these pressing requirements that are simply ignored as on date. We hope the Home Ministry would take immediate action in these directions as well.