The Bombay High Court on Tuesday said that tapping of telephones was only allowed in cases of public emergency or public safety, PTI reported. Observing that illegal phone tapping was an infringement of the fundamental right to privacy, the court quashed three orders passed by the Union Home Ministry allowing investigating agencies to intercept the calls of a businessman involved in a bribery case.

A division bench of Justices RV More and NJ Jamadar was hearing a writ petition filed by 54-year-old businessman Vinit Kumar. The court ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to destroy the taped recordings. In 2011, the CBI registered a case against Kumar for paying a Rs 10-lakh bribe to a public sector bank employee to secure credit facilities. The agency submitted the taped conversations as evidence in its chargesheet.

Kumar challenged the validity of the Home Ministry orders, passed between October 2009 and February 2010, that directed the interception on the grounds that they were beyond the powers of Section 5(2) of the India Telegraph Act, 1885. This section of the Act allows the government to intercept phone conversations if it is satisfied that there is a public emergency.

“We are of the view that as per the section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act, an order for interception can be issued on either the occurrence of any public emergency or in the interest of public safety,” the court said. “When either of the two conditions are not in existence, it was impermissible to take resort to telephone tapping. We are satisfied that in peculiar fact of the instant case, the impugned three interception orders neither have sanction of law nor issued for legitimate aim, as sought to be suggested.”

The court clarified that it was not commenting on the merits of the corruption case.

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