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More forest officers may get phone-tapping rights

The Karnataka forest department and the state police are holding talks to give equal powers to forest officials to track call records of junior staffers so that forest offence cases can be solved.

Published: 14th January 2021 03:04 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th January 2021 03:04 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

BENGALURU: The Karnataka forest department and the state police are holding talks to give equal powers to forest officials to track call records of junior staffers so that forest offence cases can be solved. Call Data Records proved successful in the recent tiger shot case in Nagarahole. However, this potent ammunition, due for renewal, has drawn criticism from experts and conservationists. In Karnataka, the home secretary gave the power to the directors of Nagarahole and BRT Tiger Reserve, apart from the Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests vigilance and wildlife, to seek and receive CDRs, subscriber detail records (SDRs) and tower location details (TLD) for a period of one year (July 2015 to June 2016).

This raises questions as Rule 11 of Information Technology Rules, 2009, permits monitoring only for 60 days with renewal not exceeding 180 days. The latest renewal was till June 2020. “Now since it is again to be renewed, we held a meeting with the police department and have demanded that the provision be given to officials in all tiger reserves and to all CCFs so that forest offence cases can be solved. CDR proved successful in the recent tiger shot case in Nagarahole.

But the same could not be done in the case of Sirsi, as the official did not have the ability,” Sanjai Mohan, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, told TNIE. Experts point out that phone tapping and accessing phone records is an extremely sensitive subject as it infringes on the fundamental right to privacy guaranteed to all citizens under Article 19 of the Constitution. In 1988, a major phone tapping issue even led to the resignation of the then chief minister.

Thus strict controls exist on who can authorize phone tapping or access call data records and TLD from telecom service providers and under what specific circumstances. Some conservationists questioned the legality of the order. They pointed out: “Though it is stated that the notification is issued based on powers under the Information Technology Rules, 2009, the legality of this is highly suspect.

In a written reply to the Lok Sabha in February, 2014, the Central government while admitting that incidents of unauthorised electronic surveillance have been reported from states, it clarified that only nine central agencies including CBI, IB, DRI, NIA and DGP at the state level are the authorised law enforcement agencies for lawful interception as per various applicable laws and rules.”

“The IT Act only provides for monitoring to ensure the security and integrity of India, friendly relations with foreign states, public order etc. Foresters are not even remotely connected with these security issues and empowering them with such draconian powers without due application of mind is extremely worrisome,” they said.



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