Phone Tapping; Even Generic Info is Confidential: MHA

New Delhi
Phone Tapping; Even Generic Info is Confidential: MHA
The Home Ministry has declined to make public the number of phone tapping authorisations given by it to different security agencies in recent years saying even "generic" information about the working of such units is exempt from the transparency law.

The ministry refused to provide the number of clearances given by the Home Secretary to different enforcement, intelligence and security agencies during last five years citing confidentiality clauses of the RTI Act.

The denial comes even though RTI applicant Abhishek Shukla had categorically mentioned that no details of the surveillance but only the "number of permissions" by Home Secretary needed to be disclosed.

"In as much as even generic data touches upon and is reflective of the functioning of the security and intelligence organisations, which in the legislative wisdom have been kept outside the operation of the RTI Act, I find no cogent reason to accept the appeal," Joint Secretary, Internal Security Dharmendra Sharma said while rejecting the first appeal in this regard.

The matter may now go to Central Information Commission as a second appeal in this regard.

Under the Telegraph Act and the IT Act, each case of monitoring of telephones or electronic communications has to be approved by the Union Home Secretary personally and is subject to review by an oversight committee chaired by the Cabinet Secretary.

The Chief Information Commissioner, while hearing the plea in the matter of disclosure of deliberations related to Padma Awards, has made it clear that RTI Act exempts communication from intelligence organisation to the government but not other way round.

The Central Public Information Officer while refusing to provide data about phone tapping clearances had cited section of the law which exempt information which would 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.

He also cited another section which allows withholding of information which 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.

The third clause cited by him was that it would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders.

In the appeal against the decision, the RTI applicant had argued that as the information is not specific about a person or incident and deals only with the number of permissions given, none of the sections cited by CPIO were applicable.
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