My Call Detail Records & A Citizen’s Right To Privacy
In the past few months I have been closely monitoring a series of news reports which deal with surveillance of my mobile phones. An effort has been made to get access to my call detail records. On two occasions senior officers of the Delhi Police have met me to keep me informed of the progress of the case.
On three occasions the Delhi Police has officially asked for the call detail records of the mobile phone which I regularly use. These details have been asked for by the South District, the Central District and the Crime Branch of Delhi Police. The reason for officially seeking the call detail records are both curious and ridiculous. On two occasions for two different periods the Call Detail Records were sought ostensibly on the ground that they were required for a verification in relation to the crime of multiple murders which had been committed in a farmhouse in Delhi. On the third occasion a Head Constable of Delhi Police sought the details and successfully obtained them on the ground that he was returning from the Saket Courts, an anonymous source advised him to check up the call detail records of my telephone number since the same may provide some evidence in relation to a fake currency racket. Obviously, both the pretexts were palpably false. Even for the wildest of imagination there would not be any evidence available in my phone details in relation to these offences. I hardly have any familiarity with the persons involved in these crimes or in relation to the subject matter of the offence.
In another incident the Delhi Police unearthed an effort to a constable of the Police acting at the behest of a private detective agency to get the Call Detail Records of some of the phones which are used by persons around me. Two phones in my name are used by two drivers whom I alternatively use and the third one is used by my son. When I am in my car or at a meeting, I do receive calls on my driver’s numbers. The Delhi Police claims that this attempt was foiled by a vigilant employee of the Service Provider who suspected foul play in these transactions.
The details of these calls being observed through official and illegal channels were for the periods November-December,2012 and January 2013. It was junior officers of the police including the officials at the level of Head Constable and Constables who could get access to these Call Detail Records.
It is obvious that somebody during this period was desperately trying to look for some evidence in my call details. The combined effort has covered the phones which I regularly use and some phones of persons who accompany me which I may incidentally use. Regrettably the Delhi Police believes that each of these efforts are unconnected and there is no pattern in the fact that an attempt was being made both successfully and unsuccessfully to monitor the persons with whom I am in touch with during the critical period. I find it difficult to accept this explanation of the Delhi Police that it is unable to find out the master-mind behind this operation and it is merely co-incidental that so many activities were taking place at the same time to get at my Call details.
The Delhi Police would have me believe that these were unconnected developments. The inability of the Delhi Police to find out the master-mind behind this operation does not mean that there is no master-mind. Either the investigation is extremely incompetent to discover the identity of the master-mind or the Delhi Police finds it embarrassing to name the master-mind. My guess is still wide open. This could be an out-sourced operation to a Government agency or a private rogue operation.
My object in raising this issue is not to play a victimhood card. I raise this issue because some larger questions of public interest are involved.
Firstly, every citizen in India has a right to privacy. His right to pirivacy is an inherent aspect of his personal liberty. Interference in the right to privacy is an interference in his personal liberty by a process which is not fair, just or reasonable. A person’s Call Detail Records can throw up details of several transactions. In the case of an average citizen it can reflect on his relationships. In the case of a professional or a business person it can reflect on his financial transactions. In the case of a journalist it can reveal the identity of his sources. In the case of a politician it can reveal the identity of the person with whom he has regular access. Every person has ‘a right to be left alone’. In a liberal society there is no place for those who peep into the private affairs of individuals. No one has a right to know who another communicates with him. The nature of communication, the identity of persons being communicated with and frequency of communications would be a serious breach of privacy. If Constables and Head Constables of police officially (even though on false pretexts ) or unofficially can get access to Call Detail Records of an individual (in this case Leader of Opposition in one of the Houses of Parliament) the personal liberty of an individual would be in peril.
In the case of a Member of Parliament, this raises an additional issue. A Member of Parliament like a media person receives information from various sources. It is in public interest that the identity of the sources is to be concealed. Most scams are exposed by insiders. If identity of sources are revealed there is a danger of the sources drying up and public interest suffering. A Member of Parliament has several undefined privileges. Nobody has a right to know who communicates with him. If those who communicate with him are exposed nobody would be willing to provide information to a Member of Parliament. This will be detrimental to public interest. If the privileged phone records of the Leader of Opposition can be accessed so easily, one shudders to think as to what would happen to an ordinary citizen.
This incident throws up another legitimate fear. We are now entering the era of the Adhaar number. The Government has recently made the existence of the Adhaar number as a condition precedent for undertaking several activities; from registering marriages to execution of property documents. Will those who encroach upon the affairs of others be able to get access to bank accounts and other important details by breaking into the system? If this ever becomes possible the consequences would be far messier.
By Arun Jaitley
(The author is Leader of Opposition, Rajya Sabha)