Not possible to retrieve copies of transcripts which have appeared in media

The Income Tax Department, which had recorded telephonic conversations of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia, was not responsible for the leak of the tapes, a common affidavit filed by the Centre in the Supreme Court said on Friday.

In its reply to the writ petition filed by industrialist Ratan Tata alleging that publication of the tapes containing “private conversations of Ms. Radia” infringed his right to privacy, the Centre said: “Never in the past had any electronic intercept made by the IT Department appeared in the media.”

Nevertheless, “an inquiry into this matter is in progress and on the basis of the material which is available, there is no reason to believe that the telephone intercepts have been leaked from the IT department. The petition has been filed on the assumption that the authority would be within its power to wiretap and record such conversations. The respondents have taken every step to ensure that what was recorded by them stayed secure in their custody,” the affidavit said.

On Mr. Tata's plea that the tapes be retrieved, the Centre said: “It is not possible or practical for the government to take steps to retrieve the various copies of some of the transcripts which have appeared in the print media or in the electronic media and which are being circulated on the Internet.”

The affidavit was silent on Mr. Tata's interim plea to stop further publication of the tapes. “There was no question of destruction of the records since the investigation in respect of the action points emanating from the conversations has not yet been completed by the IT department as well as other investigation agencies.”

The Centre, however, reiterated that safety of the data in the electronic form was ensured through proper checks in the systems through which the recordings had taken place.

Explaining the sequence of events, the affidavit said after the Home Ministry's approval, 14 telephone lines of Ms. Radia and her associates were put under surveillance, initially for 60 days from August 20 to October 19, 2008 and extended for another 60 days. From May 2009, her six telephone lines were put under surveillance for 60 days.

Sensitive conversations

In November 2009, the Director-General of Income Tax (Investigation) informed the Intelligence Bureau that an analysis of the intercepts would suggest that some of the conversations were quite sensitive and could indicate violation of the provisions of the IT Act by the parties concerned. In December 2009, the records of 1,450 calls containing about 100 hours of recording of the conversations were handed over to the CBI. The entire recordings consisting of about 5,800 calls were handed over to the CBI in May 2010.

In November, the audio tapes and some of the transcripts were published in some magazines and put on some websites, the Centre said. “If it is established that any service provider was responsible for the unauthorised supply of the information, the Telecom Ministry or any other competent authority will have to take further action.”

The case comes up for further hearing on December 13.

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