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Delhi HC refuses to direct TRAI to furnish tapping info to mobile user under RTI Act

New Delhi, The Delhi High Court has set aside an order upholding the Central Information Commission’s (CIC) direction to telecom regulator TRAI to collect and furnish information under RTI proceedings about the alleged tapping of a mobile user’s phone.

A bench headed by Justice Vibhu Bakhru allowed an appeal filed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) against a single-judge bench order and said an act of surveillance is carried out under the government’s directions and in the interest of the country’s sovereignty and integrity, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states or public order, or for preventing incitement to the commission of an offence, and is exempted under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

“Any orders passed by the government concerned in relation to interception or tapping or tracking of a phone is passed when the authorised officer is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient to do so in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states or public order, or for preventing incitement to the commission of an offence,” the bench, also comprising Justice Amit Mahajan, said in a recent order.

“In a given case, the disclosure of any such information, therefore, may impede the process of investigation and may be construed to prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, the strategic, scientific and economic interest of the State, relations with foreign states or lead to incitement of an offence, and would therefore be exempted from disclosure under the terms of section 8 of the RTI Act,” the court concluded.

It further said phone tapping does not fall under the affairs of telecom service providers and the information sought also does not relate to the functions of the TRAI under the law.

“Any contrary view would give the authority (TRAI) unbridled power to call for information and interfere with the functions of telecom service providers, and also would not be in consonance with the objects sought to be achieved by the TRAI Act,” the court said.

It said the TRAI was established for the purpose of regulating telecom services to protect the interest of the service providers and consumers in the telecom sector, and to promote and ensure an orderly growth of the sector.

The court noted that “information” under the RTI Act includes any information relating to any private body, which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force.

The high court had, in August 2021, stayed the single-judge order, saying irreparable damage will be caused if the same was not done.

Lawyer Kabir Shankar Bose had filed an RTI application seeking information and details on whether his phone was being tapped and by which agency.

Dec 25,2023

Source: Economic Times