The next time you pick up your mobile phone, your friend might not be the only one listening you speak.
The government is giving legal cover to the new passive interception technology that enables intelligence agencies to eavesdrop into all mobile communications within a 2-km radius of the equipment.
The government will move Parliament during the monsoon session to ban the private sector from operating passive interception machines and introduce safeguards in their use by intelligence agencies, a government official said on Thursday. But before it introduces safeguards, it will have to legalise their use first.
The Telegraph Act permits targeted phone tapping, only after security agencies convince the home secretary concerned of the need to tap a particular number. A panel headed by the cabinet secretary then reviews the home secretary’s approvals.
“Giving legal cover to passive interception would short-circuit this procedure,” said Pavan Duggal, an expert in technology-related law.
“There is a need to spell out the minimum limits of privacy of citizens that cannot be transgressed,” he said, convinced that courts would hold the proposed law violative of the fundamental right to life guaranteed by the Constitution.
The security establishment, however, insists that people should be more worried about losing lives than just privacy.
“Terrorism and insurgency cannot be fought by privacy concerns… Interception is part of the process to secure national security through information warfare,” says M.K. Dhar, retired joint director at the Intelligence Bureau. Officials said when the enemy was invisible; this was the only way to locate them.
According to the proposal being finalised by the security establishment, intelligence agencies would be entitled to tap all mobile phones in the vicinity of the machine and screen them for any terror-related information.
“We have proposed that if it is a conversation that does not have any security implications, the recording would be erased and a log of the tapping retained,” a senior government official said.