Interception of phone calls only in case of public emergency/public safety: BHC

In an important ruling, the Bombay High Court recently ruled that the interception of the phone calls by the authorities is permitted only in the case of ‘public emergency’ or in the interest of ‘public safety’.

Stating that the orders passed by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs allowing Central Bureau of Investigation (“CBI”) to intercept the phone calls as ultra vires of Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Court said “….an order for interception can be issued on either the occurrence of any public emergency or in the interest of the public safety. The impugned three interception orders were issued allegedly for the reason of ‘public safety’. As held in PUCL (supra), unless a public emergency has occurred or the interest of public safety demands, the authorities have no jurisdiction to exercise the powers under the said section. The expression “Public Safety” as held in PUCL (supra) means the state or condition of freedom from danger or risk for the people at large. When either of two conditions are not in existence, it was impermissible to take resort to telephone tapping.”

“The Respondents could not justify any ingredients of risk to the people at large or interest of the public safety, for having taken resort to the telephonic tapping by invading the right to privacy. Neither from the impugned orders nor from the record any situation showing interest of public safety is borne out”, the Court added.

According to the CBI, the petitioner bribed a bank official for credit-related favor and three separate phone interception orders were allowed by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs.

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