Islamabad High Court Questions Legality of Telecom Surveillance Amidst Audio Leak Scandal | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

Islamabad High Court Questions Legality of Telecom Surveillance Amidst Audio Leak Scandal

Pakistan Press Foundation

On May 29, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) barred telecom companies from recording phone calls and data for surveillance purposes amidst an ongoing investigation into leaked audio recordings of prominent figures. The court also raised serious questions about the legality and oversight of phone surveillance in Pakistan.

The audio leak case stemmed from petitions filed by Bushra Bibi, spouse of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf founder Imran Khan, and Najamus Saqib, son of former Chief Justice Saqib Nisar. These petitions alleged the unauthorized recording and subsequent leakage of their private conversations.

Justice Babar Sattar, presiding over the single bench of the IHC, questioned the legal authority of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to conduct such surveillance. Additional Attorney General (AAG) Munnawar Iqbal stated that the recordings were made under a legal framework but could not specify the exact law.

Justice Sattar pressed for clarification on the authorization process, questioning who had granted permission and under what authority. The judge expressed concern over previous statements from the government indicating that no one was authorized to tap phone calls, highlighting the potential consequences of contradicting those claims.

The court further questioned the existence of rules governing surveillance activities and the actions taken in response to the leaked audio recordings. Justice Sattar highlighted that even with proper authorization, privacy concerns must be considered. He questioned whether any secret recordings had ever been authorized by the court and if a review committee, as mandated by law, had been established. The judge emphasized that recording phone calls and providing recordings without judicial approval is punishable, inquiring whether the PTA license includes these provisions and if the PTA has issued any policy in this regard.

The court also raised concerns about the role of law enforcement agencies in investigating the audio leaks. Justice Sattar questioned why FIRs had not been registered and criticized the inability of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and other institutions to trace the source of the leaks, noting that any content uploaded on social media can be tracked through IP addresses. He also highlighted that surveillance of the Chief Justice of Pakistan had taken place, leading to inquiries in the Supreme Court.

In response, the FIA informed the court that they had written to social media platforms regarding the origin of the leaks. The court directed the AAG to seek instructions from the federal government and compile answers to the court’s questions, including clarification on the legal authority under which intelligence agencies acted.

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