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Cannot disclose data on phone tapping permissions: MHA

New Delhi: The number of permissions given to central agencies for phone tapping cannot be disclosed as it would prejudicially affect interests of the state, might endanger a person or impede the process of investigation, the Home Ministry said in response to an RTI query.

The applicant had sought to know the number of sanctions issued by the ministry to central agencies permitting them to intercept phones between 2009 and 2018.

He had also asked for data related to the number of times an agency had sought permission to tap phones and about permissions being denied by the ministry.

The applicant did not seek any specific details such as cases, individuals, file notings from the ministry.

The Home Ministry invoked three exemption clauses from the RTI Act to withhold the information without giving any reasons. Giving reason is mandatory in case information is being denied by a public authority.

The ministry took refuge under Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act to withhold data. The section exempts disclosure of information that will prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence.

It also cited section 8(1)(g) which exempts information that would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes. Section 8(1)(h) for the information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders was also cited by the ministry.

"This is absolute nonsense. These clauses cannot be applied in such a summary manner. It was a wrong order from the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO).

"Data should have been publicly displayed under Section 4 of the RTI Act. Whenever such exemptions are invoked strong reasons must be given to justify them," former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said.

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