Troubling questions

It may well be that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s opponents, particularly the Congress, ought to combat the party ideologically rather than on issues such as surveillance and the tapping of telephone conversations of a young woman. And questions may be raised over how the recordings of conversations between the then Gujarat Minister of State for Home, Amit Shah, and a police officer, that were handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation, found their way into the public domain, either through a calculated leak or through journalistic resourcefulness. Yet, while the personal nature of the allegations and suspicions over the motives behind the leak warrant extra care and scrutiny, they cannot serve to push the troubling questions raised by the surveillance episode under the carpet. The surveillance and telephone- tapping appear to have been ordered by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and implemented by Mr. Amit Shah, but conversations now made public do not seem to be consistent with the claim that they were undertaken at the instance of the young woman’s father to protect her from some unspecified threat. Rather, they seem to have been mere information-gathering exercises.

The law of privacy is inadequately developed in India, but it is doubtful if the physical surveillance and massive intrusion into the privacy of the young woman were warranted for any legally justifiable reason. Telephone tapping is an altogether new dimension. The Information Technology Act, 2000, through a 2008 amendment, provides for interception in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of the country, defence, security, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, and to prevent incitement to a cognisable offence or for investigation of an offence. The authorisation has to come generally from the Home Secretary, for reasons to be recorded in writing, and detailed records have to be kept of the intercepted numbers, and on to whom the intercepted information was provided. Given the informal nature of the Gujarat surveillance and interception, it is a moot question if these essential procedural safeguards laid down by the Supreme Court to protect the constitutional and common law right to privacy in telephone conversations were observed. No doubt, in the case of many police departments and government agencies these safeguards are honoured more in the breach. Yet, this general laxity cannot be an excuse to gloss over the Gujarat episode which has shone the spotlight on the functioning of the police and the political establishment in the State. Clearly, the main players need to come clean and bring all the facts out into the public domain. It is important too that accountability be fixed, in case there was any transgression of the law.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 1:16:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/troubling-questions/article5380367.ece

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