Wiretapping and phone tapping are strongly related to Article 21 that is “Right to Privacy”.

Listening to someone’s phone calls without their knowledge, called wiretapping or telephone tapping, is allowed only for certain authorities, like the government in India. They can do it under strict conditions to safeguard the country and public order. Regular people or organizations can’t do this as it would violate individual privacy.

There are fundamentally two different types of wiretapping:

  1. Passive wiretapping, which is legitimate wiretapping carried out by the authorities.
  2. Active wiretapping is illegal and is unauthorized device to gain every single access to data for instance by generating false messages or controlling signals.

Relevant Laws and the Significance of Wiretapping

In the Union List Entry 31, communication tools like phones and telegraphs are mentioned. According to the Telegraph Act of 1885, both the Central and State Governments have the authority to wiretap or intercept phone calls. If there’s suspicion about a person’s credibility, the inspecting authority may need to record calls after obtaining permission from the Home Ministry. Motivations for tapping must be presented, and the Ministry evaluates the request’s justification and urgency before granting permission. Agencies issue an authorization slip before investigating a phone, with the State Home Secretary having the power to impose sanctions within States.

Notably, legislators’ phones cannot be formally bugged. While the slip must clarify the person under review isn’t a politician, emergencies sometimes allow authorities to tap a phone without seeking permission from ministries to prevent uncertain consequences.

Speaking of politicians, let me add that we ought to bug their phones as well, since we all know how dishonest or susceptible to other unwarranted pressure Indian politicians are.

In fact, there are certain conditions under which telephone can be tapped, lets know about them:

  1. Security of state:
    The most frequent justification for tapping phones or other electronic devices is to ensure the safety of the state or country. No state or government would take this risk unless their state was in danger or otherwise threatened.
  2. Public Order:
    The term “public order” refers to the normalcy and security that a society requires and that the government should work to maintain so that citizens can exercise their constitutional rights and the society as a whole can advance.
  3. Friendly connections with foreign states:
    Maintaining good relations with foreign states is essential for the growth or harmony of international relations. In the context of wiretapping, this can imply coordinating the use of various countries’ wiretapping regulations.
  4. Individual privacy:
    For example, there wouldn’t be any individual privacy if wiretapping were made legal or if anyone had access to wiretap devices.

Laws Relating to Wiretapping

The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885:
According to Section 5(2) of the Act, wiretapping is allowed in some situations, including as emergencies, national security threats, and the upkeep of law and order.If officials decide it is necessary to preserve public order, safeguard the “sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, or public safety,” they may issue the order.

Punishment for Wiretapping

In cases of illegal wiretapping by any person, group, or government agency that uses wiretapping unlawfully to invade a person’s privacy by listening to their phone communications, the aggrieved person or victim may file a court application. According to Indian Telegraphic Act’s Article 26(b), anyone detained for unauthorised interception is subject to a 3-year prison sentence. Additionally, it would be a violation of Article 21’s right to privacy.

Cases Concerning Wiretapping

  1. Mr. Mukesh Kumar Kaushik v. Delhi State Industrial
    In this case, the plaintiff filed a complaint after the public authorities regularly disclosed the assets of public servants through the use of specialised gadgets. The Delhi High Court rendered a decision in this case, which was classified as a wiretapping case.
  2. Dharambir v. Central Bureau of Investigation
    In this case, the CBI has provided a detailed account of how the list of calls that are pertinent to each investigation was compiled. However, a great deal of data was gathered during the process by recording phone calls on the hard drive, transferring it to CDs, and providing it to the accused. Given that hard drives were mentioned, Section 3 EA, in conjunction with Sections 173(5)(a) and 207(v) of the CrPC, applied.


In conclusion, while the Telegraph Act of 1885 strictly regulates phone tapping, my opinion suggests the need for exceptions in certain circumstances without prior authorization, especially in emergencies. Balancing the right to privacy, guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, with the imperative to protect national security is crucial.

Telephone interception is a significant government action requiring justification, as outlined in Section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act. Exceptions are allowed only in the public interest or during emergencies, preventing the violation of privacy rights. Nevertheless, any evidence obtained through phone interception is admissible, underscoring the importance of obtaining proper permissions.

The government and authorities, despite having specific rights, are not unlimited in their actions. There are limitations, and tapping a person’s phone requires justifications and prior consent, ensuring that personal freedom is not arbitrarily deprived. In essence, recording phone conversations is permissible when serving the public good or in emergency situations, aligning with the legal framework in place.

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