New Delhi: The smokescreen around the secret world of phone taps legal and illegal is all set to clear up. In an unprecedented move, the Union Home Ministry has called police chiefs from across the country on Tuesday on phone tapping.
Perhaps keeping in mind the corporate lobbyist Nira Radia and former BSP leader Amar Singh phone tap scandals, the Home ministry has prepared fresh standard operating procedures.
The Central Board of Direct Taxes has got the go ahead to remain as one of the agencies that will be allowed to tap phones.
This decision following a meeting between Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister P Chidambaram. A high-level committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary and consisting of officials from the Ministries of Home, Finance and Telecom as well as the top brass of security and intelligence agencies had suggested that the CBDT should not have the power to tap telephones - as this could lead to the misuse of the power.
The CBDT's income tax department allegedly leaked the Nira Radia tapes to the media.
The Statement of Purpose (SOP) says soft copies of transcripts must be deleted from the system permanently. DVDs and CDs should be destroyed by grinding them into finest powder and if a hard disc gets corrupted under no circumstances it should be taken to the vendor for repairs.
In fact, the Home Ministry is all set to make it mandatory to do an annual audit of all phones tapped by central and state agencies. Passive interception done with off the air GSM machines could be made a criminal offence.
Amendments to the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 will be suggested to enhance the penalty for passive interception. All intelligence agencies have been told to return off the air GSM machines to DOT.
State Police has been told to crack down on illegal phone tapping by the private sector.
The Nira Radia and Amar Singh phone tap scandal has the government getting its act together. Phone tap proposals will be treated as top secret in the future as per the fresh SOP laid down by the government.
But what happens to passive phone taps by the government's own agencies. Despite the MHA reading the riot act out, not one agency has come forward to admit that yes they have off the air GSM machines or that they are tapping phones without authorisation.