IHC bars telecom companies from recording phone calls

Poet Ahmed Farhad in custody of AJK Police: IHC told

ISLAMABAD   -   The Islamabad High Court (IHC), in audio leaks case, on Wednesday  barred the telecom companies from recording phone calls and data for surveillance purposes.

A single bench of IHC comprising Justice Babar Sattar issued the directions while hearing the petitions of former first lady Bushra Bibi and former chief justice Saqib Nisar’s son Mian Najam ul Saqib against their respective audio leaks.

 The judge also directed to give clarity regarding the law authorizing the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to carry out surveillance activities. Additional Attorney General Munnawar Iqbal replied that it is being done under a legal framework. Justice Babar asked that under which law you are recording peoples’ calls and directed the AAG to inform the court officially. He added that who has given the permission and who has given the authority to record calls?

 The judge said that you earlier told the court no one was authorized to tap phone calls. If you back down from this position now there will be consequences. He further said that the law says that the federal government can authorize this, but according to you it was not authorized.

The AAG clarified that his earlier reply was only to the extent of the audio leaks involving the petitioners.

At the AAG’s clarification, Justice Sattar remarked 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 maintained that no one has been permitted to carry out legal interception.

The judge said that if the authority to conduct surveillance has been granted, tell us where and how. Then, the AAG stated that rules should be made in this matter if none exist.

Justice Babar questioned that who would make the rules, and also asked who would notify the institutions about the rules. He further asked that if any secret recording has been made till now after seeking permission from the courts.

He also questioned from the AAG that whether the phone recording without judicial permission was also punishable and 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 further asked that what action was taken on the matter and how did audio leaks go viral on social media. He also questioned that if the social media post could be traced through the IP address.

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

Later, the court barred telecom companies from using phone calls and data for surveillance and warned them that the companies would be held responsible if their equipment was found used in illegal surveillance.

The bench also sought records of secretly recorded conversations from the federal government and also directed AAG to submit a reply to the court questions.

Meanwhile, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) was informed by the Attorney General for Pakistan on Wednesday that the missing poet Ahmed Farhad was arrested in Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) and currently in police custody there.

Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani heard the case regarding the recovery of the poet. During the hearing, Justice Kayani observed that still the answers of few questions were awaited. “We have taken the oath to protect the fundamental rights of citizens,” he added.

Minister for Law and Justice Azam Nazeer Tarar prayed the court to dispose of case after the missing poet was located.

“Our children, citizens and security personnel are being martyred,” he added. The minister said that the Parliament should also play its role. The Constitution had described the limits of every institution.    On the occasion, Attorney General Mansoor Usman Awan also presented the report of Police Station Dherkot, AJK.

Amicus curiae senior journalist Hamid Mir said that he had submitted his written arguments to the court. He said that the Parliament had passed a bill regarding the missing persons which should have been implemented.

The law minister said that a House of the Parliament had recommended an amendment in the bill, and in such situation a joint session of the Parliament was required.

Justice Kayani said that the media had given awareness to the public.

The court then adjourned the case till Friday.

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