Phone tapping: Even generic info is confidential, says MHA

Last Updated: Sunday, June 13, 2010 - 15:39

New Delhi: The Home Ministry has declined to
make public the number of phone tapping authorisations given
by it to different security agencies in recent years saying
even "generic" information about the working of such units is
exempt from the transparency law.

The ministry refused to provide the number of clearances
given by the Home Secretary to different enforcement,
intelligence and security agencies during last five years
citing confidentiality clauses of the RTI Act.

The denial comes even though RTI applicant Abhishek
Shukla had categorically mentioned that no details of the
surveillance but only the "number of permissions" by Home
Secretary needed to be disclosed.

"In as much as even generic data touches upon and is
reflective of the functioning of the security and intelligence
organisations, which in the legislative wisdom have been kept
outside the operation of the RTI Act, I find no cogent reason
to accept the appeal," Joint Secretary, Internal Security
Dharmendra Sharma said while rejecting the first appeal in
this regard.

The matter may now go to Central Information Commission
as a second appeal in this regard.

Under the Telegraph Act and the IT Act, each case of
monitoring of telephones or electronic communications has to
be approved by the Union Home Secretary personally and is
subject to review by an oversight committee chaired by the
Cabinet Secretary.

The Chief Information Commissioner, while hearing the
plea in the matter of disclosure of deliberations related to
Padma Awards, has made it clear that RTI Act exempts
communication from intelligence organisation to the government
but not other way round.

The Central Public Information Officer while refusing to
provide data about phone tapping clearances had cited section
of the law which exempt information which would prejudicially
affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security,
strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State,
relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an
offence.

He also cited another section which allows withholding of
information which would endanger the life or physical safety
of any person or identify the source of information or
assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security
purposes.

The third clause cited by him was that it would impede
the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of
offenders.

In the appeal against the decision, the RTI applicant had
argued that as the information is not specific about a person
or incident and deals only with the number of permissions
given, none of the sections cited by CPIO were applicable.

PTI



First Published: Sunday, June 13, 2010 - 15:39

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