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IHC prevents telecom companies from tapping phones for surveillance

The court noted that the federal government may authorize such recordings in accordance with the law

A general view of the Islamabad High Court. — Geonews/file

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has restrained telecom companies from tapping phones for surveillance in the audio leak case.

Judge Babar Sattar issued a restraining order regarding access to consumer data and its use, noting Wednesday that if telecom companies’ equipment were used for illegal surveillance, the companies would be held accountable and prosecuted.

Justice Sattar noted that the Prime Minister’s Office, Defense and Home Ministries, Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) and other institutions have categorically said that no authority is allowed to monitor telephone conversations, and that illegal surveillance is a crime punishable by law. .

During a hearing on the petitions filed by Bushra Bibi and Najamus Saqib, Justice Sattar in his address to Additional Attorney General (AAG) Manoor Iqbal Dogal noted that as per his statement, no one is allowed to record telephone conversations, and if you withdraw your stand, it would to have consequences.

The court noted that the federal government may grant permission for such recordings in accordance with the law, but according to Dogal’s statement, no such permission was granted.

The federal officer was looking for time. The court noted that the case has been pending for the past year, and if the federal government files a false affidavit, how the case will proceed.

The court noted that the PM Office and other authorities had filed representations that no one should record telephone conversations. The federal law official argued that this response was filed in connection with the audio leaks.

Judge Sattar noted that whatever it is, the federal law officer must tell the court under what legal citizen calls are being recorded.

The Supreme Court told the law officer not to tell the court verbally but to formally inform who had given permission to record citizens’ calls and under what authority such an exercise had taken place.

It noted that the law stipulates that the ISI DG, MI DG or any other intelligence agency must notify a Grade 20 officer for clearance for surveillance, who would then submit a request to the minister.

The court further stated that the federal minister, who had seen the supporting material, would approve the surveillance, and the court would then give final approval. It said privacy has been considered in the law and asked the law officer where the consent for such surveillance is.

The court asked whether a secret recording has ever been applied to a court under this law, and whether under the law, a person’s license for such secret recording will be reviewed every six months, and whether such a review committee has been formed so far . .

The IHC also notes that recording telephone conversations and providing details of the telephone recording without the court’s permission are punishable. It was asked whether the PTA’s licensing terms cover these matters or has the PTA provided any policy on the matter.

The court asked the law officer whether this law has been enforced in the past year, what action has been taken against the illegal phone recording and what they have done to investigate how the audio leaks went viral on social media.

Justice Sattar noted that if something is uploaded on social media, it can be tracked from the IP address. The court noted that when the FIA ​​​​and other institutions were asked to trace this IP address, they replied that they did not have such capabilities.

The court noted that these were lapses of institutions, and what the role of FIA and police was and why FIRs had not been registered in the case.

It said that if a crime has been committed in a country, the FIA ​​will wait for someone to come to file a complaint and investigate.

The additional director of cybercrime told the court that letters have been written to social media platforms regarding identification of the accounts and their response is awaited.

Justice Sattar asked what the investigating officer would do if the answer did not come for another decade. The additional director replied that an investigation into the matter is underway.

The court ordered the AAG to receive instructions from the federal government and submit answers to the court’s questions. It said that surveillance was also conducted on the then Chief Justice of Pakistan in 1997, and the responses were submitted to the Supreme Court in 2015, along with statistics.

The court ordered the federal government to submit records of all telephones tapped by the federal government and explain the law’s rationale for making such secret recordings. The court subsequently suspended proceedings in the case.

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