The average citizen of India has already lost - or may lose very soon - the right to privacy. For, individuals and corporations have illegally imported advanced phone-tapping gadgets worth Rs 2,000 crore during the last three years.
The equipment bought from east Asian countries, especially from Singapore and Hong Kong, can be mounted in an innocuous-looking car and pick up conversations from a particular telephone number within a 2-km radius.The government is suspecting rampant abuse of this technology, which only nine government departments and state intelligence agencies are allowed to use under section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and, that too, very selectively.
The home ministry has drawn up a list of people and companies, which imported the gadgets till December 2010, and sent it to the department of telecommunications for seizing the equipment as soon as possible.
The list, according to DoT sources, contains names of corporations, detective agencies and some individuals.
"But no owner of these equipment has come forward to declare the imports," said an internal DoT note accessed by HT.
The issue came to light last November, when Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata moved the Supreme Court against the publication of the transcripts of his conversations with lobbyist Niira Radia.
The transcripts are now part of the evidence in the 2G scam case.
The gadgets that cost Rs 1.5-3 crore a piece can be used for what is technically known as "off-the-air" phone-tapping.
"It poses severe threats to national security, besides infringing on individual's privacy," said a DoT official. He said the legal provisions against phone-tapping was too weak - a maximum of three years' imprisonment.