Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Illegally acquired surveillance equipment to monitor Indians

DNA exclusive: PMO knew you were being snooped upon
Published: Monday, Sep 17, 2012, 10:00 IST
By Saikat Datta & Pradip R Sagar | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the national security advisor (NSA) allowed an agency, not permitted under the law, to acquire surveillance equipment and monitor Indians between 2010 and 2011.
An investigation by DNA shows the NSA, Shiv Shankar Menon, knew that the defence intelligence agency (DIA), a tri-service organisation drawing personnel from the army, the navy and the air force, was keen to purchase off-the-air cell phone monitoring equipment.
Not only was the DIA not authorised to tap phones of Indians, but it also did not have the approval of the technical coordination group (TCG), chaired by the NSA. Despite these legal and procedural lapses, documents accessed by DNA show that the DIA went ahead and procured the equipment while the NSA, the PMO and the defence ministry looked the other way.
In the absence of any independent monitoring of intelligence agencies in India, no one knows how these machines have been used.
They could have been used illegally to tap phones and gather political intelligence or even monitor people.
The TCG was created after the Kargil war to ensure coordinated intelligence gathering. As per its charter, all purchases of technical intelligence equipment above Rs20 crore must be cleared by the TCG. The NSA is the chairman of the TCG and the technical intelligence agency’s, NTRO, chairman is its member secretary.
In the 9th meeting of the TCG, LtGen DS Chauhan, who was then the director general of DIA, had put up a note on August 10, 2011, seeking the TCG’s approval for the purchase of 26 off-the-air GSM monitoring machines, six off-the-air CDMA monitoring equipment, and five GSM jammers.
But on August 12, the TCG pointed out in the DIA’s inventory that one CDMA and four GSM-cell phone monitoring equipment had already been bought.
How did the DIA buy these without the TCG’s approval or even the legal framework to buy such machines?
These cell phone monitoring machines have a limited range depending on the terrain and the weather. So, why was the DIA allowed to buy such machines since it is mandated to gather technical intelligence with limited human intelligence in insurgency-prone areas? In either case it is not a “notified law enforcement agency”, which is mandatory for phone tapping.
This was brought to the notice of the NSA as well as cabinet secretary Ajit Seth, defence secretary Sashi Kant Sharma, and joint secretary in the PMO Pankaj Saran.
No one objected and the DIA continued to illegally monitor people using unauthorised equipment.
The PMO did not respond to a written questionnaire from DNA. LtGen (Retd) Tejinder Singh, who as the director general of DIA before LtGen Chauhan, told DNA that the procedure to purchase these equipment started much before him.
“In either case, the purchase was sanctioned at every level — from financial advisors to the director general (acquisitions), who is currently the defence secretary,” the retired lieutenant general told DNA.
“Anyway, the signals directorate, which purchased the equipment, comes under the DIA for operational purposes. All their procurements must be approved by the defence ministry and not the director general of DIA because he does not have the financial powers to do so.
Despite the fact the government hasn’t notified DIA as an “authorised” agency for phone tapping, the official spokesman of the defence ministry, Sitanshu Kar, said no “illegality” had taken place. “We find your statement calumnious. The defence secretary, as DG (acquisitions) had not sanctioned, at any stage, any illegal purchase of any equipment,” Kar said.
Phone tapping in India is governed by the December 18, 1996, judgment of the Supreme Court and section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act that says phone tapping is legal only if it is authorised by the Union home secretary.
Only nine agencies are legally authorised to put in requests for tapping phones. Which means any government or private agency besides these nine agencies are not authorised to keep tabs on any form of communication in the country, let alone put in a request to the Union home secretary.
The IB, the R&AW, the income tax department, the enforcement directorate, the narcotics control bureau and the state police forces are among the nine authorised agencies.
DNA exclusive: PMO knew you were being snooped upon

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