PEOPLE’S UNION OF CIVIL LIBERTIES V. UNION OF INDIA

CITATION: AIR 1997 SC 568

COURT: SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

BENCH: K Singh, S S Ahmad

FACTS:
  • In 1990, Chandra Shekhar (Eighth Prime Minister of India) publicly put forward an allegation against the government led by V.P Singh that it was illegally tapping the telephones of 27 politicians, including his own
  • The Writ petition under Article 32 was filed in the wake of reports by the Central Bureau of Investigation on “Tapping of phones of the politicians”
  • Through the investigations, it was found out that MTNL had been authorized by various agencies to intercept certain phone numbers however the files about to such interceptions were not maintained properly.
ISSUE:
  • Whether Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act 1885 could be held unconstitutional.
  • Whether telephone tapping infringed the Fundamental Right to Privacy.
PETITIONER’s CONTENTIONS:
  • That the right to privacy has been guaranteed under Article 19 and Article 21 of the Constitution
  • That Section 5(2) of the Act must have procedural backing so that the exercise of power is fair and reasonable.
RESPONDENT’s CONTENTIONS:
  • That tapping of the telephone can be done only by the order of the Central/State Government under conditions of National emergency, public safety, etc
  • That the striking down the provision Sections 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act will jeopardize public interest and security of the State.
JUDGEMENT:

The Supreme Court while affirming the infringement of Right to Privacy via phone tapping laid down several guidelines for the exercise of the Executive’s surveillance. It was laid down that the home secretary of the Union government or the State government can issue an order for phone tapping. The order has to be directed on the basis of strong reasons. Such an order will be valid for up to 2 months. Further, the Home Ministry does not have absolute powers and that the order shall be subject to review by the Cabinet, law and telecommunication secretary. The Writ petition was disposed of without costs.

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