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ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) restrained the telecom companies from recording phone calls and data for surveillance purposes, and said there should be clarity regarding the law authorising the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to carry out surveillance activities.

A single-judge bench of Justice Babar Sattar, on Wednesday, heard the petitions of former chief justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar’s son Mian Najamus Saqib and former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s wife Bushra Bibi regarding their audio conversation leaks.

The Court sought records of secretly recorded conversations from the federal government and also directed Additional Attorney General (AAG) Munawar Iqbal to submit a reply to the court’s questions. Justice Babar said the companies would be held responsible if their equipment was found used in illegal surveillance.

Audio leaks: Justice Babar dismisses pleas of Pemra, FIA and PTA

During the proceeding, Justice Babar inquired under which law phone calls are being recorded. “Who has given the permission; who has given the authority to record calls,” the judge further asked. The AAG replied, “It is being done under a legal framework.”

Upon that, Justice Babar said earlier the court was told that no one was authorised to tap phone calls. If you back down from this position now there will be consequences. The law says that the federal government can authorise this, but according to you it was not authorised, he added.

The AAG clarified that his earlier reply was only to the extent of the audio leaks involving the petitioners. Justice Babar then said that things would not progress if the federal government “lies in court”. He said various institutions and offices, including the Prime Minister’s Office, have submitted their responses in court.

They maintain that no one has been permitted to carry out legal interception. “If the authority to conduct surveillance has been granted, tell us where and how,” the judge remarked.

At that, the AAG stated that rules should be made in this matter if none exist. Justice Babar inquired who would make the rules, adding who would notify the institutions about the rules. He further asked if any secret recording has been made till now after seeking permission from the courts.

“Under the law, every six months one’s permit for such secret recording will be reviewed, has any such review committee been formed to date?”

Justice Babar questioned AAG whether the phone recording without judicial permission was also punishable. “Did the PTA’s license mention these conditions or has the PTA given a policy in this regard? Has this law been followed in the last one year or not?”

The court, continuing its line of inquiry, asked what action was taken on the matter and how did audio leaks go viral on social media. Justice Babar also questioned if the social media post could be traced through the IP address.

The judge, expressing annoyance over the non-registration of FIR, said the lack of FIA’s ability and that of other institutions to trace a post can be regarded as a failure of the institution.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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