People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) v. Union of India & Anr. [(1997) 1 SCC 301]

People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) v. Union of India & Anr. [(1997) 1 SCC 301]. Incidents of telephone tapping were challenged as being violative of Art. 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution. While recognizing individual’s right to privacy, the Court laid down guidelines to be followed by the State in all cases of telephone tapping.

In public interest, PUCL had filed a Petition under Article 32 of the Constitution narrating incidents of telephone tapping which violated Article 19(1)(a) and Article 21 of the Constitution. The Petition, among others, was based on report by the CBI “Tapping of politicians’ phones” which was published in the March 1991 issue of the Mainstream. PUCL had emphasized the right of privacy being a part of Article 21 of the Constitution and had argued that prior judicial scrutiny is necessary before any order for telephone tapping is passed. The Court, however, issued certain directions in the absence of any guidelines being laid down under Section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act. The guidelines inter alia mandate that telephone tapping shall not be done except when there is an order by the Home Secretary, Government of India or by the Home Secretary of any State Government. In urgent cases, the said power will be delegated to officers not below the rank of Joint Secretary. There were several other directions given with regard to safeguarding the right of privacy of a person under the Constitution.

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