IHC Justice May Issue Notice to PTA for Allegedly Enabling Phone Call Tapping

In the audio leaks petition hearing at the Islamabad High Court, Justice Babar Sattar indicated that the Chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and its Board members might face a contempt of court notice. IHC justice may issue notice to PTA for allegedly enabling phone call tapping.

This development arises from ongoing hearings of petitions by Najam-ul-Saqib and Bushra Bibi concerning unauthorized audio leaks.

Justice Sattar highlighted the lack of a legal framework for phone tapping, declaring current practices illegal without proper mechanisms. He stressed that telecom companies if they provide citizens’ data without adequate scrutiny, share the responsibility.

IHC Justice May Issue Notice to PTA for Allegedly Enabling Phone Call Tapping

The PTA defended itself, claiming it has not authorized any entity to tap phones and that telecom operators have implemented systems following the PTA’s directives. The court has instructed the Additional Attorney General to present the cabinet meeting minutes that approved the surveillance policy at the next hearing.

Additional Attorney General Munawar Iqbal Duggal explained that authorized officers from intelligence agencies request data. He mentioned a policy from 2013, following a Sindh High Court decision, which allows ISI and IB to directly obtain data from service providers, while other law enforcement agencies access this data through these intelligence agencies.

Justice Sattar questioned the legitimacy of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) issued by a section officer and the authority of the Ministry of Interior to issue such an SOP. He expressed concerns about the legality of sharing live location data without a warrant and emphasized the need to examine the legal status of this document, noting it does not explicitly mention phone tapping.

Justice Sattar inquired about the PTA’s functions and mechanisms. The PTA lawyer stated that the PTA has no surveillance authority and does not conduct phone tapping. Justice Sattar asked if a division’s directive could authorize data tapping. The PTA lawyer responded, according to his understanding, that they could do it following cabinet approval.

See Also: PTA To Impose Fee for Telecom Equipment and Device Registration

The court also questioned telecom companies’ lawyers about how they provide data, whether they keep records of the data they share, and their agreements regarding data transmitted via cables. The lawyer informed the court that only the company had access to the data. The court asked if agencies could access the data without telecom companies’ permission. Justice Sattar remarked that telecom companies assisting in phone tapping are acting illegally, as there is no law permitting phone tapping.

Justice Sattar further questioned how authorities could approve a surveillance system without any law under Section 57. The telecom companies’ lawyers stated that providing data is a condition for obtaining a PTA license, and telecom operators are unaware of how the data is used.

The court asked whether telecom operators installed the system at the PTA’s direction and requested correspondence regarding the PTA’s system installation directive. The lawyer confirmed it is a license condition and agreed to provide any correspondence records.

The telecom companies’ lawyers mentioned that authorized agencies could simultaneously access data from two per cent of all customers. The court questioned how telecom companies are not held responsible when they bear the costs and install the system, given this level of access.

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Onsa Mustafa

Onsa is a Software Engineer and a tech blogger who focuses on providing the latest information regarding the innovations happening in the IT world. She likes reading, photography, travelling and exploring nature.

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