Monday, February 14, 2011

RCom Intercepted 1.5L Phones In 5-Yrs

New Delhi: Some startling figures stumbled out on rampant phone tapping in the country when telecom service provider Reliance Communication told the Supreme Court on Monday that the authorities had asked it to tap 1.51 lakh phone numbers in a five-year span between 2006 and 2010.

This works out to an average of over 30,000 telephone interceptions every year by a single service provider on the orders of various law enforcing agencies. Or, over 82 telephones were intercepted every day by a single service provider.

Reliance is the second-largest service provider with a subscriber base of 12.57 crore as in 2010. The biggest service provider, Bharti Airtel, had 15.25 crore subscribers in 2010, while Vodafone’s subscriber base was just a shade lower than Reliance’s at 12.43 crore. State-owned BSNL came fourth with 8.67 crore subscribers.

If Reliance’s ratio of phones tapped to the number of its subscribers were to be taken as representative and applied to other service providers, it is a fair assumption that government agencies were tapping more than one lakh phones every year.

In Delhi alone, Reliance tapped a total of 3,588 phones in 2005 when the tele-density was low compared to today. It also included Amar Singh’s number which was put under surveillance — allegedly on a forged letter from Delhi police.

Four days back, a bench of Justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly had expressed concern over the large number of interceptions being ordered by the agencies and the “grave danger” this posed to the citizen’s right to privacy.

In an affidavit tendered by senior advocate Ram Jethmalani before the bench, Reliance Communications said: “The total number of interceptions in 2005 in respect of Delhi service area were 3,588. There were about 1.51 lakh number of cases for monitoring/interception during the period 2006-10 in all India.”


Whose Phone Can Be Tapped?
Someone who may be involved in a conspiracy to commit a crime or is involved in underworld activities or is a threat to the state’s security
The Indian Telegraph Act spells out the grounds clearly: it permits tapping by the central and state govts “in any emergency or in the interest of public safety’’ or if they are satisfied that the tapping is in the interest of the nation’s security or for maintaining public order

Who Can Intercept?

Police, revenue-collecting (like income-tax dept) agencies and agencies like Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, CBI, Narcotics Control Bureau, anti-corruption bureau, Enforcement Directorate, RAW and Military Intelligence

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