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Updated: December 18, 2011 01:27 IST

Now, RAW can legally intercept calls, e-mails

Vinay Kumar
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It's legal now. Eight agencies, including the Research and Analysis Wing, can intercept any data communication, e-mails or phone calls.
The Hindu Photo Library It's legal now. Eight agencies, including the Research and Analysis Wing, can intercept any data communication, e-mails or phone calls.

Amid a raging controversy over its plan to screen social media, the UPA government has added and notified the external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), to the list of eight agencies to intercept phone calls, e-mails and data communications.

Highly placed government sources said the RAW's addition to the list is aimed at giving it a legal cover for intercepting phone calls, e-mails and voice and data communication domestically. This is the first time that the R&AW, since it was formed in 1967, has been authorised to tap phone calls. The sources said the notification was issued by the Home Ministry recently.

The move came nearly two weeks after The Hindu carried a series of write-ups, working in collaboration with WikiLeaks, on communications intelligence capabilities. The sources said the RAW would not be able to deploy its communication interception equipment at international gateways to snoop on all forms of data, be it international telephony emanating from India or any form of electronic data including e-mails.

The sources pointed out that investigators had tapped conversations of terrorists, who attacked Mumbai on November 26, 2008, getting instructions from their handlers in Pakistan. “For such an evidence to be admissible legally, it was felt that it must be given legal sanctity,” the sources said.

Significantly, it was only last year that the Union government faced flak from courts on phone tapping, prompting it to tell the States to adhere to the guidelines strictly.

On the questions of a citizen's rights and privacy, the Home Ministry had reiterated that law enforcement agencies could tap phones of any individual for security or operational reasons for 72 hours even without permission from the Union Home Secretary or the State Home Secretary.

In such a case, if the agency concerned does not get permission, it will have to destroy the tapped conversations within 48 hours, official sources said.

All requests by the Central government agencies, including those under the Finance Ministry and the Central Bureau of Investigation, need the approval of the Union Home Secretary. But senior officials admit that the goof-ups have put a question mark on the integrity of the system which is not foolproof. They do not rule out the possibility of more innocent citizens being put on the list of suspects.

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The government has once again infringed on democratic rights without even a token effort to seek public opinion. The fact that governments can resort to these measures with so much impunity only points to the dismal state of democracy in the country. What purpose is served by seeking permission from the Home Secretary, that too 72 hours after tapping? Even in a quasi democracy, permission must be obtained from a magistrate or judge before violating the privacy of citizens. This government only worries about privacy when it comes to publishing the names of those who have stashed enormous wealth in overseas banks! We can only hope that somebody like Hazare will take up the cause of restoring our democracy to the way it was intended at the time of independence.

from:  Viswanath
Posted on: Dec 18, 2011 at 12:15 IST

Is India fast turning into a police state? I strongly urge the Supreme Court to put an immediate halt to all the activities of the Government which are in violation of Article 19 of the Constitution.Freedom of expression, liberty of thought and belief and dignity of the individul are values which can never be compromised under any circumstances.

from:  Umesh Bhagwat
Posted on: Dec 18, 2011 at 10:54 IST

"""...In such a case, if the agency concerned does not get permission, it will have to destroy the tapped conversations within 48 hours, official sources said. "" - So what happens to the personal , or confidential details , data ?..can it be used for private accusations, creating embarrassments to the victim by having it anonymously posted on the internet etc etc ?. After all this RAW is also manned by humans and there are a of humans with petty vindictive minds in this country.

from:  Suresh
Posted on: Dec 18, 2011 at 10:39 IST

Its most unfortunate, but one wonders how else can the menace of terror can be controlled.It is unpalateble but at the same time when we consider the security of the country, it does make sense. Having said that, given the organisational structure we have in this country, it just creates a fear in our mind, it will be misused more than the benefit it will offer.

from:  Jaya Prakash
Posted on: Dec 18, 2011 at 09:00 IST

Benjamin Franklin has said,"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty"!If our hard won freedom has to be preserved ,the Govt. has to be eternally vigilant!The recent Anna movement owes much to cyber activities.It grew with "misscall" technique!Many are not in position to find out how within "eight months" such a big mass movement was built!Kejriwal claims in the "communication war" Team Anna has won!But the real truth is from Sangh privar, to Ramdev, Sri Sri Ravishankar and others have deputed their troops!"Public angst flowing into the streets" is a humbug!If a very strong Lokpal is created with that much concentration odf power, the risk rises for it to become very "authoritarian" and "over-bureaucratised;!

from:  Meiyappan
Posted on: Dec 17, 2011 at 23:32 IST

While common man is surveilled upon basic freedoms like speech that are granted under fundamental rights, it should not be illegitimate to bring the high offices of the nation under the radar of the lokpal.

from:  rao s. thotakura
Posted on: Dec 17, 2011 at 23:32 IST

The lesson world wide is the same - if it is secret, don't trust someone else's technology.

from:  sandhu
Posted on: Dec 17, 2011 at 22:41 IST

There is nothing wrong in an independent body or intelligence community wiretapping as long as it is in the national interest and not for any political vendetta. Not sure what is the issue with The Hindu.

from:  Srisai
Posted on: Dec 17, 2011 at 22:33 IST

Why not create a new income for the government by allowing ANY Indian citizen to tap into anybody else's phone, e mail or other communications by paying a fee? This would be a lot less harmful, a lot more profitable, and indeed we can do away with the hypocrisy of a private conversation altogether! Now, what can RAW do about people meeting and discussing the next terrorist attack in person? ZERO. What has the government accomplished so far in apprehending any of the major terrorists behind attacks on India? We even released some of them in exchange for hostages. Would such things have been prevented if phones had been tapped? This is just RAW going overboard with power, and I do not trust them to destroy any phone conversations they recorded, with or without permission.

from:  B S Kumar
Posted on: Dec 17, 2011 at 22:17 IST
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