Govt says legal basis in place for wiretapping


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ISLAMABAD: The principal secretary to the prime minister has told the Islamabad High Court (IHC) that the Investigation for Fair Trial Act, 2013 provides a legal framework for recording of phone calls between private citizens by means of modern techniques and devices.

“The Fair Trial Act, 2023 has been enacted being mindful of the fact that the existing laws neither comprehensively provide for nor specifically regulate advanced and modern investigative techniques.

“[These techniques include] covert surveillance and human intelligence, property interference, wiretapping and communication interception…

“[These techniques] are used extensively in other jurisdictions to successfully prevent the offences and as an indispensable aid to the law enforcement and administration of justice,” said a 5-page written reply submitted to the IHC.

A single-member bench of the IHC comprising Justice Babar Sattar is going to take up on December 11 a petition filed by former chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar’s son Najamus Saqib.

Saqib had moved the court after a parliamentary panel issued him notices in connection with his alleged audios in which he could be heard seeking kickbacks for getting a politician secure a ticket of the PTI.

At an earlier hearing, the court had asked the respondents if there existed a legal framework for recording telephone conversations between citizens.

The IHC had also asked as to which agencies and entities had the requisite technological capability to record telephone calls and conduct surveillance of telecommunication.

Responding to the queries, the reply said that the Fair Trial Act, 2013 aims at neutralising and preventing the threat of the scheduled offenses “as it is necessary that the law enforcement and other agencies are given certain specific authorisations to obtain evidence in time and only in accordance with law.”

The PM’s principal secretary, who is also one of the respondents in the case, noted that the act also provides the admissibility and use of material obtained during lawful investigation under the present law, in judicial proceedings and all other legal proceedings or processes to ensure fair trial.

“Section 5 of the Telegraph Act, 1880 also empowers the federal government, provincial government and any officer specially authorized by the federal/provincial government to take possession of licensed telegraphs and to order interception of messages.”

It said the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016 is also aimed at preventing unauthorized acts with respect to information systems and to provide a mechanism for related offences “as well as procedure for investigation, prosecution, trial and international cooperation with respect to matters connected therewith or ancillary thereto.”

Responding to the query with regard to capability of intelligence agencies to record phone calls, the reply said the PM Office does not interfere with sensitive day-to-day working of the agencies.

“Being a political cum administrative office, the PM Office keeps an arm-length relationship and does not interfere in key functions of the premier intelligence agencies,” it added.

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