TRAI Must Give Info on Phone Tapping Under RTI if Telcos Refuse: Delhi HC

The case was filed by Supreme Court lawyer Kabir Shankar who had sought information on “surveillance, tracking or tapping” of his phone from Vodafone.

New Delhi: The Delhi high court has ruled that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is obliged to provide information on phone tapping to citizens under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI) after obtaining the same from telecom operators.

A single-judge bench of Justice Suresh Kumar Kait passed the judgement in response to an appeal by TRAI, which wanted a recent Central Information Commission (CIC) order, demanding that the regulator furnish information an applicant had sought in an RTI application, set aside.

The application in question was filed by Supreme Court lawyer Kabir Shankar who had sought information on “surveillance, tracking or tapping” of his phone from his service operator Vodafone and TRAI.

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After Vodafone denied Shankar the information on the grounds that it wasn’t a public authority, he approached the Central Information Commission, which directed the telecom regulator to provide the information to him after collecting it legally from the service provider.

TRAI then challenged the CIC order in the Delhi high court, arguing that the information sought under the RTI was not a part of its records and it was hence not obliged to furnish the information to the applicant.

The court upheld the CIC order that directed TRAI to collect the relevant information sought in the RTI application from Vodafone India and furnish it to the applicant. The court held that since TRAI was a public authority, it was under an obligation to furnish all information which can be legally accessed by it from a private body.

The telecom regulator argued that the indiscriminate and impractical demands for disclosure of all information would impede the effective functioning of the body and obstruct national development.

In particular, it said the act should not, “Be converted into a tool of oppression or intimidation of honest officials… The nation does not want a scenario where 75% of staff of public authorities spend 75% of their time in collecting and furnishing information instead of discharging their regular duties.”

“The threat of penalties under the RTI Act and the pressure of the authorities under the Act should not lead to employees of a public authority prioritising ‘information furnishing’ at the cost of their normal and regular duties,” TRAI argued.

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