Home Ministry refuses to disclose information on ‘Phone Tapping’ under RTI

New Delhi: The Home Ministry has refused to give information on an RTI query that sought a number of sanctions given to central agencies permitting them to intercept phone calls between 2009 to 2018.

Information on permissions given to central agencies for phone tapping cannot be disclosed as it would prejudicially affect interests of the state, might endanger a person or impede the process of investigation, the Home Ministry said in response to an RTI query, Kashmiri Reader reports.

Though the applicant did not seek any specific details on cases, individuals, file noting from the Ministry, the Home Ministry has invoked three exemption clauses from the RTI Act to withhold the information without giving any reasons.

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Giving reason is mandatory in case information is being denied by a public authority.

Besides seeking information on only number of permissions on phone tapping granted by the Ministry, the applicant also sought information on data related to the number of times an agency had sought permission to tap phones and about permissions being denied by the ministry.

The Ministry took refugee under Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act to withhold data.

This section exempts the disclosure of information that will prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence.

It also invoked section 8(1)(g) which exempts information that would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes and Section 8(1)(h) for the information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders was also cited by the ministry.

“This is absolute nonsense. These clauses cannot be applied in such a summary manner. It was a wrong order from the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO).

“Such details should have been publicly displayed under Section 4 of the RTI Act. Whenever such exemptions are invoked strong reasons must be given to justify them,” replied former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi.

“The commissioners are hearing cases after two-three years of response because of pending cases. Even then they are not imposing penalties which is promoting such attitude among CPIOs as they feel they can get away with such responses,” he said.

RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak has also alleged that this was a wrong order from the CPIO.

“The lawful interception or phone tapping is done by law enforcement agencies, duly authorised by Central and State governments under the classified legal regime, if required, as per provisions contained in section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 read with rule 419-A of the Indian Telegraph, 1951 or Section 69 of the IT Act 2000 read with the Information Technology (procedure and safeguards for interception, monitoring and decryption of information) rules, 2009,” the ministry has said.

Not only did the Home Ministry invoke three sections of RTI to with hold the sought information, it has also cited a Central Information Commission (CIC) order in a separate case wherein the ministry was allowed to withhold information.

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