The Supreme Court Thursday said that with the march of technology, privacy is “virtually disappearing”.”Given the technological advancement, privacy is virtually disappearing,” said a bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly.
The court’s observation came in the wake of senior counsel Harish Salve’s submission that if the government had the right to snoop on the citizen’s privacy (through phonetaps) in the national interest, then it also had a corresponding responsibility of guarding these intercepts from public gaze.
Salve was arguing for Tata Group chairperson Ratan Tata seeking a thorough probe into the leaking of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia’s taped conversations related to 2G spectrum allocation. Tata figured in some of the conversations.
Radia’s telephones were put under surveillance after the home ministry received a letter alleging that in a short period of few years, she had amassed huge wealth and that she had foreign connections.
The court also observed that the “Official Secrets Act is a very old act and it guards the privacy of Indian citizens, while it may need reform”.
The original copy of the letter received by the ministry was placed before the court.
Referring to the government’s stance that it was investigating the source of the leak of the Radia tapes, Salve told the court that there was nothing in the actions of the government that showed that it was seriously pursuing the matter.
The apex court was told that it was incumbent upon the agencies involved in wire-tapping to immediately destroy those portions of intercepts that were not required by them.
He said that if the government was at all serious about maintaining the confidentiality of the Radia tapes then it should have got alerted April 28, 2010 when excerpts of these appeared in print.
The senior counsel told the court that the Radia tapes have nothing to do with 2G spectrum controversies as the licences were allocated to telecom companies in January 2008 whereas her phones’ tapping commenced in August 2008.
Analysing the affidavit filed by the central government in December last year, Salve said that information about Radia tapes was available with three intelligence agencies. The fourth entity that could be privy to such tapping was the service provider.
Salve told the court that being a licensed service provider of the central government, the nodal officer (of the private service provider) comes in the category of public person and is liable for prosecution under the Prevention of Corruption Act for wrongdoings.