‘Power to record phone conversations itself an encroachment on right of privacy'
Industrialist Ratan Tata has questioned in the Supreme Court the attitude of the Centre in allowing free distribution and publication of his private conversations with corporate lobbyist Niira Radia recorded by the Directorate-General of Income Tax without taking steps to retrieve the stored material or find out the source of leakage.
Mr. Tata, who filed a writ petition alleging that the publication of the tapes had infringed his right to privacy, said in his supplementary affidavit that the power of the law enforcement agencies to record telephone conversations itself “constitutes a serious encroachment upon the right of privacy guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.”
He made it clear that the present petition was not designed to somehow keep back from publication any conversation to which he allegedly was a party for any oblique purpose.
It was filed to seek redress of a wholesale violation of the constitutional rights of a large number of persons, including the petitioner and a host of corporate entities by the indiscriminate publication of wiretrap material procured by questionable means.
Referring to the Centre's reply to his main petition, Mr. Tata said, “It appears from the affidavit of the government that it is their perception that leakage of such material and its consequent publication does not constitute the violation of any constitutional rights of those whose privacy is so invaded and thereby the government is under no corresponding duty to exercise its statutory powers under the criminal laws as well as the Official Secrets Act or the Indian Telegraph Act to retrieve the material which has been leaked and/or to take steps to prevent its indiscriminate publication..”
Mr. Tata said dehors the issue of Telecom licences: “The media claims that the disclosure of the present tapes expose the role of lobbyists in the working of the government, which is the matter of public importance. Even if that is assumed to be correct, nonetheless the question arises as to whether indiscriminate disclosure of private conversations by a person alleged to be a lobbyist with a host of people [including media persons, other private persons, corporate employees, her own employees] can be justified as an exercise of the right of free speech which outweighs right to privacy, or whether it constitutes an invasion of the right to privacy.”
He also questioned whether the media, in the garb of reporting legal proceedings of the court, was free to publicly air questions asked by the court and submissions made by counsel in a manner that seriously impinged upon the right to reputation of citizens enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution.