Government committed to privacy: Chidambaram (Lead)

April 29th, 2010 - 11:41 pm ICT by IANS  

P. Chidambaram New Delhi, April 29 (IANS) The government is committed to privacy and is prepared to strengthen safeguards regarding phone tapping, Home Minister P. Chidambaram said Thursday.
He also said the government was examining a proposal to bring under “a ministry” the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), a highly specialised technical intelligence gathering agency.

“NTRO does not come under any ministry but reports to the National Security Advisor. It has been necessary to review the position. I had a word with the prime minister. We are examining whether to place NTRO under a ministry so that the minister is accountable to parliament,” Chidambaram said in his reply to the short-duration discussion in the Rajya Sabha on the alleged tapping of telephones of certain politicians.

He said the NTRO was a facilitating agency which provides technical capability to gather intelligence.

Replying to the points raised by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Jaitely, and Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury about the need to protect individual liberty, Chidambaram said the government was prepared to strengthen procedural safeguards regarding tapping.

“If rules are inadequate, we will amend them… Let there be no doubt that the government is committed to privacy.”

“The safeguards should keep pace with technology,” he said.

Chidambaram said that the country faced challenges of terrorism and cyber-crime and the state should keep ahead of technology used by people unfriendly to the country.

The minister said that technology available with NTRO, set up in 2004 during the rule of National Democratic Alliance, was not as sophisticated as was being made out. He said agencies of many countries were far ahead of NTRO in the use of technology.

Chidambaram did not directly refer to the issue of monitoring phone conversations between a high-profile lobbyist and Communications Minister A. Raja on the allocation of 2G spectrum. He, however, justified authorised tapping in cases relating to tax evasion or commercial transactions needing investigations. He also said the government does not encourage lobbyists.

Referring to his earlier statement, Chidambaram said the government had not authorised any phone tapping of political leaders.

“Further inquiries are being made. The matter will be thoroughly investigated. We will go to the bottom of the truth. If allegations in the magazine (Outlook) are true, we will find out who did it, under what circumstances and take action,” he said.

He said the union home secretary has to state reasons in writing to authorise tapping by central agencies and the state home secretary has to do it in case of police.

In his remarks, Jaitley said a parliamentary panel should examine the mismatch between the sophisticated tapping equipment used by the government and the guarantees enshrined in the constitution to protect individual liberty.

“If you have equipment that can be misused, and there is mismatch between technology and guarantees enshrined in the constitution, it needs to be discussed by a body of parliament, such as JPC (joint parliamentary committee),” Jaitley said.

Jaitley asked Chidamabaram to relook at the government’s position that tax evasion can be a ground to authorise tapping of phones. He said tapping can be done in cases involving public safety and national security.

The debate witnessed heated exchanges between the AIADMK and DMK members over phone-tapping allegations and allocation of 2G spectrum.

AIADMK member V. Maitreyan alleged that his phone had been tapped by authorities in Tamil Nadu.

The Outlook magazine said in a report that the phones of four senior political leaders - union Minister Sharad Pawar, Congress leader Digvijay Singh, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat were tapped. The government has denied the allegation.

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