NEW DELHI: Citizens who want to find out if their phones are under surveillance can seek such information from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) under the RTI Act.
In a transparency-friendly ruling, the Delhi high court has held that Trai will have to furnish information on surveillance or tracking of an applicant’s phone by any agency since it has the legal power to obtain such info from a telecom service provider.
“If a public authority has a right and is entitled to access information from a private body, under any other law, it is ‘information’ as defined in Section 2 (f) of the RTI Act. Thus, it is an obligation on the public authority to get the information from the private body and furnish the same to the applicant,” Justice Suresh Kait noted in a recent order.
The ruling came on a plea filed by lawyer Kabir Shankar Bose. Justice Kait rejected the claim of Trai that it had no power to call information from the private body, i.e. Vodafone India in this case, pointing out that the regulator was regulating telecom services in India.
In September, the Central Information Commission (CIC) had asked Trai to provide Bose with the information after taking it from Vodafone. Vodafone, on the other hand, sought exemption from disclosure on the lawyer’s RTI plea, claiming itself to be a private organisation and not a ‘public authority’ as defined under the RTI Act.
Trai maintained that the information sought by Bose was not a part of record with it and on that ground alone it was not required to furnish the information under any law or rules. The RTI Act did not cast an obligation upon Trai to collect such non-available information and then furnish it to an applicant. The HC countered that ‘information includes in its ambit the information relating to any private body, which can be assessed by public authority under any law for the time being in force’.