The Delhi High Court on Tuesday directed the Centre to file an affidavit giving details of the law and procedure followed for monitoring and interception of phones on a plea for a permanent oversight authority to authorise and review such a move.

The Court’s order came on a public interest petition filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) which argued that the general surveillance systems such as Centralised Monitoring System (CMS), Network Traffic Analysis (NETRA) and National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) are compromising the citizens’ right to privacy.

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Adjourning the matter for September 30, a division bench comprising Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh said, “Learned Solicitor General for Union of India (UoI) is seeking time to file a detailed affidavit. Counsel appearing for the petitioner states that earlier short affidavit was filed and several averments made in the petition have not been answered by the UoI. Time to file a detailed affidavit is granted to the UoI. It will point out in detail the law and procedure followed by it for monitoring and interception of phones.”

‘Illegal dragnet’

According to the petition, the general surveillance systems allow the authorised Central and State law enforcement agencies to intercept all and any telecom communications in bulk, leading to a “mass illegal dragnet surveillance system”.

The petition simultaneously pointed out that the oversight mechanism for such vast surveillance systems is woefully inadequate and insufficient.

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It quoted an RTI reply, obtained from the Ministry of Home Affairs, to submit that on an average around 7,500-9,000 telephone interception orders were being issued by the Centre per month during 2013-2014, which can only be said to be issued in a mechanical manner without application of mind, thereby exceeding the adequate safeguards and oversight mechanism under the Indian Telegraph Act and Rules which laid the groundwork for the right to privacy in the context of wiretaps and Constitutional freedoms.

The Centre sought time to reply. “I am not appearing in this matter but another matter is pending before the Supreme Court. There are statutory rules in place that require us to seek permission. It also requires periodic review… There are rules made under Section 69 read with Section 84 of the IT Act… It cannot be decided on numbers, that 1,000 is okay but 7,000 permissions are not okay,” said Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.