Unauthorised publication of his private conversations with business woman Niira Radia recorded by the Directorate-General of Income Tax has infringed his right to privacy, industrialist Ratan Tata asserted in his writ petition filed in the Supreme Court on Monday.

Mr. Tata said that since April-May 2010, there had been reports in the media that the DGIT had authorised the interception and recording of telephone conversations Ms. Radia had with various people. The reports also suggested that these recordings made by the IT department for the purpose of its investigations were thereafter handed over to the CBI.

Mr. Tata made it clear that he was not challenging the right of the statutory authorities to make a recording of private telephone conversations and the power of the CBI to use the transcripts for the purpose of investigations. He was aggrieved by the failure of the authorities to take adequate steps to protect the privacy of those whose conversations were recorded and to act in accordance with the Rules under the Indian Telegraph Act in dealing with these transcripts. Even if the transcripts were illegally obtained by someone, no steps were taken to retrieve them and prevent their dissemination in public.

He said the unauthorised publication of a private conversation between two citizens was protected by the “right to privacy” under Article 21 of the Constitution as the publication of such conversations could seriously damage their reputation. Quoting a series of Supreme Court judgments, he said telephone tapping, unless it was permitted under the procedure established by law, would infract Article 21 of the Constitution and any restriction imposed on making such tapes public would come under the purview of reasonable restrictions under Article 19 (2) of the Constitution.

Constitutional duty

Mr. Tata said that Article 21 would extend to the protection of his reputation and that of those similarly situated. There would be a constitutional duty on the part of the Union of India and its agencies to exercise their power under the law to recover the data obtained without authorisation and prevent its further dissemination.

He sought a direction to the authorities to take all steps as might be necessary to retrieve as far as possible all the recordings; a direction to the CBI to conduct a thorough enquiry into the matter; and a direction to ensure that there was no further publication of these recordings — either as audio files through the Internet or as transcripts in any media, print or electronic.

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