19 December 2011
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New Delhi: Bringing India’s external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), on a par with international spy agencies in terms of arming it with legal snooping powers, the Indian government recently notified it as one of the eight agencies to intercept phone calls, emails and voice and data communications ‘domestically’.
The other agencies in the list are Intelligence Bureau, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Enforcement Directorate, Narcotics Control Bureau, Central Bureau of Investigation, National Technical Research Organization and state police.
“The need to arm RAW with this power had been felt for long. Certain legal obstacles during the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack investigation had triggered such need, leading to the notification arming the agency with snooping powers, which will have legal sanctity in any court of law,” a source said.
He pointed out that the agency could tap conversations of terrorists getting instructions from their handlers in Pakistan during the Mumbai 26/11 terrorist attack but such an intercept would not have passed the court’s scrutiny unless substantiated by some other ‘admissible’ evidence.
After the recent notification, RAW will now be able to deploy its communication interception equipment at international gateways to track all forms of data, be it international voice data emanating from India or any form of electronic data, including emails. In the absence of this, Indian agencies had to depend on agencies of friendly nations to track the calls of terrorists during the Mumbai terror attack in November 2008.
This is the first time that India’s external intelligence agency has been authorized to tap phone calls and intercept electronic communications. The central government has, however, done this despite facing flak from courts on ‘misuse’ of phone tapping powers.
At present, law enforcement agencies can tap phones of any individual for security or operational reasons under prescribed legal provisions of lawful interception in the Indian Telegraph Act. These agencies can, however, tap phones for 72 hours even without permission from the Union home secretary or the concerned state home secretary during emergency situation. These agencies will, however, have to destroy the tapped conversations within 48 hours if they are denied permission from the concerned authorities.
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