Eavesdrop Nation

Reliance Infocomm, India’s second-largest mobile telephony provider, told the Supreme Court on Monday that various government agencies asked it to intercept 1.51 lakh numbers during the four years between 2006 and 2010, reports India's Economic Times newspaper

Showing that the telecom operator received more than 100 requests for phone taps every day, the data hints at widespread, overzealous use of eavesdropping by government agencies -- even as India continues to press Canada's Research In Motion to give those agencies access to the encryption technology for its Blackberry mobile devices.

Reliance's revelations came in the context of a probe into an apparently illegal wire tap on former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh. Reliance told the Supreme Court that it had tapped Singh's conversations after a written request of the Delhi Police and the Union Government, the paper said. RCom in its affidavit said it had intercepted Amar Singh’s teleconversations on the direction of the Joint Commissioner of Delhi Police and Home Secretary of the Delhi city government, but the authorisation letters have been alleged to be forged.

Extrapolating from the Reliance data, ET's sister publication, the Times of India, concludes that government agencies listen in on more than 100,000 phone lines every year.

Four days back, a bench of Justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly expressed concern over the large number of interceptions being ordered by the agencies and the "grave danger" this posed to the citizen's right to privacy, the paper said.

The debate comes as fallout continues to rain down from an income tax department tap on the phone of lobbyist Niira Radia -- which helped to unearth details of the 2G telecom spectrum scam. Hardly a big tycoon or top journalist was spared as the tapes were leaked to muckraking news magazines and eventually made their way into the mainstream press.