The Union home ministry has stepped in to restore powers of state law enforcement agencies to intercept or monitor calls and messages on phones registered and operating in other states for a period of seven days in emergency situations, sources told HT.
“Andhra Pradesh and several other states had complained to the home ministry that many operational leads in criminal probes are getting lost because of the bar on intercepting phones registered and operating in another state. The ministry contacted the department of telecom to sort out the problem,” said a central government official.
Sources said the previous standard operating procedure (SOP) was the home secretary of a state could order monitoring of phones registered and operating outside their jurisdiction for seven days in emergency situations. The request for such surveillance had to be validated by the home secretary of the other state during that period.
The revised SOP, issued early this year, states that requests have to be sent to the Union home secretary or home secretary of the state concerned before ordering an interception.
“Precious time was lost in the permission tangle as states like Andhra Pradesh have found while chasing leads on Maoists. The Delhi police special cell had also taken up the matter with the home ministry. The department of telecom has been told to direct phone service providers not to refuse interception requests,” said the official.
Those in favour of reverting to the old SOP argued a home secretary can still order monitoring of a phone on roaming that is registered in that state. “If a phone on roaming can be monitored, why not allow interception of phones registered and operating in another subscriber area? The Indian Telegraph Act says the order should come from Union home secretary or the state home secretary. It doesn’t differentiate in jurisdictions,” said an official.