Telephone tapping allowed only in case of public emergency: HC

 Telephone tapping is permissible only in situations of public emergency or in the interest of public safety, the Bombay High Court held on Tuesday and quashed orders passed by the Union Home Ministry allowing agencies to intercept phone calls of a businessman booked by the CBI in a bribery case.

A division bench of Justices R V More and N J Jamadar was hearing a petition filed by the businessman, Vinit Kumar, challenging the three orders, passed between October 2009 and February 2010, that allowed tapping of his phone calls.

Kumar’s counsels Vikram Nankani and Sujay Kantawala had argued that the interception orders were in the violation of the provisions of the Telegraph Act and the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India.

The CBI had registered a case in 2011, accusing Kumar of paying a bribe of Rs 10 lakh to a public servant (a bank official) to secure credit-related favour.

“We are of the view that as per the section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act, an order for interception can be issued on either the occurrence of any public emergency or in the interest of public safety.

“When either of the two conditions are not in existence, it was impermissible to take resort to telephone tapping,” the bench said.

“We are satisfied that in peculiar fact of the instant case, the impugned three interception orders neither have sanction of law nor issued for legitimate aim, as sought to be suggested,” the judges noted.

The bench further held that since the interception orders were issued in contravention to the provisions of law, the concerned intercepted messages will have to be destroyed.

The bench, however, added that it was not making any remarks on the merits of the case against the petitioner.

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