The two Britons caught plane spotting and listening-in to conversations between pilots and the Air Traffic Control (ATC) on Monday could be in serious trouble.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has taken a “serious” note of the two foreigners’ hobby and has asked the Delhi Police to book them under relevant laws.
Senior MHA officials said the two appeared to have violated provisions of the Telegraph Act and would have to face the consequences.
Preliminary investigations have revealed that the two were eavesdropping into conversations between pilots and the ATC and storing the same on their computer.
As first reported by the Hindustan Times, security agencies had detained Stephen Hampston (46) and Steven Martin (55), after being tipped off by Radisson Hotel, where the two had been staying since February 13.
Police found the two carrying high-tech gadgets including a device that can be used to “monitor air traffic and track aircraft movement”. Also recovered from them were maps of the IGI airport, powerful binoculars and cameras.
On interrogation, the two disclosed that the equipment was meant for “plane spotting” — a “hobby”.
Intelligence agencies have told the MHA that the two—a guard and a linesman in the British railway—did not seem to have a “terror link”.
“No case has been registered so far. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will take a decision on Wednesday. They are being provided consular assistance by the British High Commission,” said Chaya Sharma, additional DCP (south).
A senior DGCA official said, “Activities like plane spotting, which include listening to air traffic transmissions, fall strictly under the government’s domain and private individuals indulging in such activities need to have clearance from appropriate authorities.”
“Delhi police has approached us to find out the exact nature and level of sophistication of the equipment seized from the Britishers. The equipment has now been given to the Communication and Navigation department of Airports Authority of India for further investigation,” said a senior DGCA official who didn’t wish to be named.
“In India, no one is allowed to own and operate such equipment as air traffic communication and surveillance are strictly in the government domain,” he said.
The duo, who were supposed to take a flight out of India at 10 am on Tuesday, have been detained at the hotel itself. The two Britishers had also called up the hotel from London before their trip to India and specifically demanded a room overlooking the airport, police said.
“We have asked the British High Commission to verify their details. They did not possess any document that allowed them to practice plane spotting in India,” said a senior police officer.
“The hotel staff alerted the police after they sensed something amiss. The police are investigating the case,” said
Anil Malhotra, PRO, Radission Hotel.