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Tap and sting on court table

New Delhi, March 20: The Supreme Court today said media sting operations and phone-tapping were related matters and that it would look into both together.

The court, while hearing Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh’s petition on illegal phone-tapping, said it would also consider the issue of sting operations.

The court had on February 27 barred the media from airing the contents of illegally tapped phone conversations till further orders. The blanket ban covers the allegedly tapped conversations of Amar.

The order, however, didn’t make it clear whether the ban extends to the broadcast of sting operations carried out over the phone.

Advocate Prashant Bhu-shan, speaking for the ordin-ary citizen, had argued that st-ings, as opposed to snooping on private conversations, invo-lved issues of public interest.

Legal experts say there’s also a difference between tapping a telephone and recording a conversation. Most sting operations involve recorded conversations, and such recordings can even be produced as evidence in court.

The court, which had issued notices to telecom service providers after enlarging the scope of Amar’s petition, today asked them to state if they had tapped phones at the request of private clients.

The court also asked them for suggestions on how guidelines meant to regulate phone-tapping could strike a “balance between national security and (the) right to privacy of citizens”.

The Centre said it had decided to make the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, more stringent to prevent misuse of the power of interception.

The government has already announced fresh guidelines on phone-tapping. One of them asks service providers to issue an acknowledgement within two hours of a request for interception.

The Centre said it felt the need for a change keeping in mind the technological developments and rise in the number of service providers since the Indian Telegraph Rules were framed in 1999.

The number of telephone subscribers had risen from 22.8 million in 1999 to over 125 million, the Centre said. It added that as of February 28, a total of 3,728 telephones were under surveillance in the country.

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