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TMCNet:  Snoopgate: Telecom firms to be examined by inquiry panel [India] [Times of India]

[December 30, 2013]

Snoopgate: Telecom firms to be examined by inquiry panel [India] [Times of India]

(Times of India Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) NEW DELHI: Telecom service providers which allowed access to phone intercepts of the woman allegedly snooped upon by Gujarat Police at the behest of Narendra Modi aide Amit Shah may turn out to be the first point of the probe by the Centre-appointed commission of inquiry. According to the terms of reference (ToR) of the panel, it is required to investigate if the telcos complied with the laws, rules and licensing norms in the surveillance across Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi.

A home ministry official said the Centre-appointed panel will follow up on unauthorized interception beyond the borders of Gujarat, examine if it was done with due authority or if the legal regime was hijacked, and suggest further safeguards against illegal surveillance.

"The first point of the probe will be the telecom service providers, who may be asked to share interception records from their archives; this will help identify officers who approached the service providers... these officers will then be examined to find out at whose behest the interception was done," the official told TOI.

The findings of the panel, to be presented in three months, are likely to include fixing of responsibility for the unauthorized surveillance, systemic changes enabling stricter checks and balances and possible directions to the relevant authorities to register an FIR or start disciplinary proceedings against errant officials, said home ministry sources.

As per ToR approved by the Cabinet on Thursday, the commission of inquiry will "ascertain the circumstances leading to the surveillance by way of interception of telephones or otherwise of a young woman in Gujarat in August-September 2009 or any other relevant period". It will also investigate instances of unauthorized tapping of phones in Himachal Pradesh and unlawful access to call data records in Delhi.

The panel will examine if the surveillance was borne out by taped conversations and whether it was carried out with due authorization. It will identify apparatus and instrument used for the surveillance, the period of placement and whether records were maintained for the same.

The inquiry commission will also determine if the rules of command and control, supervision and accountability on part of the officers involved in the surveillance were violated. Under the Indian Telegraph Act, a person responsible for unauthorized interception can face up to three years in prison, or fine, or both.

Lastly, the panel will make recommendations to the Centre on the "measures needed to ensure non-recurrence of such incidents" of unauthorized interception.

The Himachal case entrusted to the panel relates to the alleged interception of CM Virbhadra Singh's conversations by the erstwhile P K Dhumal-led BJP government. According to an MHA official, interception records were held back from the screening committee beyond the period stipulated for deciding on their preservation or destruction, and large number of telephones were intercepted without due authorization.

In Delhi, some police personnel and private detectives tried to access BJP leader Arun Jaitley's CDRs. Though Delhi Police is investigating the case which was already probed by the privileges committee of Parliament, Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde on Thursday said a commission of inquiry was being ordered as the issue was raised by several political parties in Parliament.

Snooping across states must be authorized by the Union home secretary. However, the news portals behind the snoopgate expose have claimed that a junior officer of the Gujarat government had approached telecom service providers and other state governments seeking interception of the woman's conversations.

(c) 2013 Bennett, Coleman & Company Limited

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