Sunday, May 4, 2014

Too little too late on Snoopgate

Modi has been accused of e-stalking an young lady whom he was acquainted with. When the news portals leaked the story (taped conversations between Modi henchman Amit Shah and a police officer), it was generally understood that the revelations would crush Modi. But the Congress goofed up big time. They could not find a judge to conduct the inquiry for 5 months!!! Now that they have found a judge at the 11th hour, the allies have deserted ship like the proverbial rats.

Sharad Pawar and the National Congress Party (2nd largest coalition member) has also come out in opposition. Congress now looks isolated on this matter (and also petty and vindictive). Not good enough and most voters will not care at this point.

The Hindu editorial from Nov 23, 2013 examines the specifics of the case and the expectations of privacy of an individual in India (not much but better than the USA).
Yet, while the personal nature of the allegations and suspicions over the motives behind the leak warrant extra care and scrutiny, they cannot serve to push the troubling questions raised by the surveillance episode under the carpet. The surveillance and telephone- tapping appear to have been ordered by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and implemented by Mr. Amit Shah, but conversations now made public do not seem to be consistent with the claim that they were undertaken at the instance of the young woman’s father to protect her from some unspecified threat. Rather, they seem to have been mere information-gathering exercises.

The law of privacy is inadequately developed in India, but it is doubtful if the physical surveillance and massive intrusion into the privacy of the young woman were warranted for any legally justifiable reason. Telephone tapping is an altogether new dimension. The Information Technology Act, 2000, through a 2008 amendment, provides for interception in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of the country, defense, security, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, and to prevent incitement to a cognizable offence or for investigation of an offense. 

The authorization has to come generally from the Home Secretary, for reasons to be recorded in writing, and detailed records have to be kept of the intercepted numbers, and on to whom the intercepted information was provided. Given the informal nature of the Gujarat surveillance and interception, it is a moot question if these essential procedural safeguards laid down by the Supreme Court to protect the constitutional and common law right to privacy in telephone conversations were observed.
The Congress Sunday dared BJP leader Narendra Modi and his aide Amit Shah, both accused of illegally snooping on a woman architect, to come clean by answering 10 questions on the entire issue.

Alleging that Modi, Shah and the BJP leadership are yet to make public the "reason, purpose and motive" of tapping the phones and tracking the movements of a young Gujarati girl, the party said in a statement the audio tapes brought out by two news portals reveal "shocking, grim and completely unacceptable level of surveillance".

Citing the fundamental right to privacy guaranteed by the Indian constitution, the Congress asked if Modi and Shah had the right to "conduct surveillance of the woman as also tapping her phones and those of her friends and acquaintances with complete impunity in a totally illegal fashion?"

The party, while accusing Modi of hiding the fact that he knew the girl for "close to five years" before he allegedly snooped on her, also demanded to know the reason behind putting her under surveillance on the basis of an "oral, undated request" by her parents, as the BJP has claimed in its defence of Modi.

The Congress also alleged in one of its questions that the Gujarat government had given undue favours to a firm floated by the father of the said girl and asked the prime ministerial candidate, also the Gujarat chief minister to answer the charge.

The Congress asked if any public purpose was served by allegedly snooping on the girl and if the Gujarat government informed other states in which these alleged activities carried out?

Asking the BJP to reveal the money spent on the exercise and the resources utilized, the Congress asked if this was not "stalking" and should it not be tried as an offense under section 26 of the Indian Telegraph Act, "read with section-120-B as also section 166 of Indian Penal Code".


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