The government is planning to withdraw the powers of the Income Tax department to tap phones and standardise procedures for intercepting phone calls as well as destroying records of intercepted phones within a fixed time-frame.
Home Minister P Chidambaram is expected to discuss the recommendations of a committee headed by Cabinet Secretary KM Chandrasekhar with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee shortly on the issue.
Government sources said the decision to extend the powers to tap phones to the Central Board of Direct Taxes for the IT department appeared to be erroneous in the light of the fact that the IT department primarily investigated civil offences and often had to resort to fudging facts to seek permission.
The exercise is the fallout of the leakage of conversations involving lobbyist Niira Radia, whose phones were put under surveillance between 2008 and 2009 by the CBDT. Radia's phones, incidentally, were intercepted on a complaint by an ex-employee who had pointed to security ramifications of her business dealings.
The committee of secretaries had also highlighted the need to standardise procedures and facilities including upgrade of telephone interception mechanism.
This includes a software programme — currently being used by private phone companies — that would leave a signature on every CD, making it possible to trace back the CD of a leaked tapped conversation.
The fresh guidelines also mention a stricter scrutiny of applications filed by all agencies, first by the Home Ministry and subsequently, by the review committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary.