State govts hand over few off-air phone-tapping sets to Centre

Jharkhand govt has surrendered four sets while the MP and Haryana govts have handed two sets.

Written by Ritu Sarin | New Delhi | Published: October 21, 2013 2:58:04 am

Only 23 off-air interception equipment have been surrendered by various state governments and police departments to the Centre following a ban on their use or possession.

Confirming this,Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) officials said the off-air sets are now lying in a storehouse of the Intelligence Bureau.

Significantly,two such off-air or passive interception sets have also been surrendered by the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO),whose use had led to a furore in parliament following a controversy over their “unauthorised” deployment.

According to the MHA’s list,the Maharashtra government has surrendered the most sets,with the Mumbai Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) handing in four sets and the Maharashtra police handing in two sets. The Jharkhand government has surrendered four sets while the Madhya Pradesh and Haryana governments have handed in two sets each.

Among individual police units,both the Delhi Police and the Border Security Force (BSF) have turned in three sets each. One set has been received from Assam,though it is not clear whether this has been surrendered by the Assam Rifles or the Assam Police.

While the MHA was tasked with collecting and making an inventory of such equipment being used by state governments and public sector undertakings,the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) was required to collect or seize equipment in possession of private companies and individuals.

DoT officials,however,told The Indian Express that no private individual or company has surrendered any off-air telephone monitoring equipment as yet,nor have they been able to seize any equipment. Two private companies are learnt to have been sent notices by the DoT as they were allegedly assembling passive interception equipment at least till a few years ago.

MHA officials said the mopping-up operation,which began two years ago,was drawing to an end,with no more equipment being surrendered recently.

Following the controversy over illegal use of off-air interception equipment,the government had shifted its import from the “open general licence” category to the “restricted” category,and issued notifications that possession or use of such equipment would invoke a stiff penalty and punitive action.

The government had also asked the Customs department to provide details of all such equipment imported throughout the country over a 10-year period. After scanning the list of importers and the companies/ departments they sold the equipment to,the MHA sent notices to the users and asked for all the sets to be deposited in Delhi.

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