Be warned: If Pranab-da can be 'bugged', so can you

By RK Raghavan

There’s not a dull day in the life of the average Indian, however miserable his existence may otherwise be, thanks to endless power cuts, water scarcity and traffic snarls.

The latest scam from the capital beats all that has preceded it. The allegation that the Finance Minister’s office had been bugged by an unidentified person or agency sounds bizarre. At this point of time it is difficult to take it seriously, with the FM himself describing it as mere ‘rubbish’. I am inclined to believe him only because it is difficult to prove with certainty that he was in fact compromised.

Having said this, it is not possible to dismiss the whole episode as something imaginary. There was, in all probability, some security breach in the FM’s office that had given jitters to those around him. Obviously some of them had talked about this and summoned help.

Without this happening, how could this rumour have acquired such currency as to dominate the media and become the talking point of the nation? The international press is going to play this up only to damn us.

 Be warned: If Pranab-da can be bugged, so can you

The bug episode highlights the need for all of us to take adequate care that we will not be victimised by our adversaries. Reuters

The allegation makes out a case for serious scrutiny if only to assure the average Indian professional that his own telephone and office cannot be easily violated, by either official or private agencies. The episode also highlights the need for every one of us to take adequate care that we will not be victimised by our adversaries.

This is why I always maintain that honesty is still the best policy. In this event, we need not be exercised with anyone breaking into our computers or telephones because the offender will have hardly anything interesting to misappropriate from us.

I must advise all of you that you must proceed on the assumption that your telephone and computer are being watched, and that you should not slip up on complying with the basic law of the land.

I can speak with some authority that government agencies are now extremely circumspect about whose telephones are to be watched and who should not be. All tapping by them is perhaps done after observing due legal formalities. No official will resort to this basically undesirable and sometimes unavoidable practice (from the point of view of national security/criminal investigation needs) without some legal cover.

Home secretaries who authorise tapping will think twice before agreeing to eavesdrop because they know they can be hauled up by the courts if there is leakage of this sensitive information.

My own hunch is that some agencies are now falling victim to questionable oral instructions from their political bosses and resort to ‘bugging’ on a ‘deniable’ basis. This danger is real.

Officials under pressure to collect information on individuals opposed to a ruling party often resort to private agencies for executing what is a solely political operation unrelated to national security exigencies.

This is facilitated by the fact that bugging devices are available in plenty in the open market at home and abroad. And these are used every day by private security agencies which are thriving beyond belief in all our cities. These agencies are a law into themselves and their respect for legally prescribed procedures is indeed slender.

Home secretaries who authorise tapping will think twice before agreeing to eavesdrop because they know they can be hauled up by the courts if there is leakage of this sensitive information. Getty Images

This is why we cannot rule out one such agency having been hired by the FM’s enemies within government or outside to acquire information that can be leaked with a view to embarrassing him.

In any case, to dismiss the thick rumours floating around North Block as rubbish is dangerous. If the culprits behind the snooping - if one did indeed take place- or those who have circulated a flimsy rumour just to confuse public opinion and create a political crisis, are not caught, the lapse will only make the miasmic

Delhi’s air murkier than it is. Inaction will throw more uncertainties into the stock market that is already in a fragile situation.

One final point. A lot is being made of the non-summoning of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) to do the enquiry. It is the prerogative of the minister concerned. Logically speaking, he will be more convinced with the findings of officers reporting to him than those who belong to another ministry. This is why possibly it was the Enforcement Directorate (ED) that was summoned.

You cannot ignore the fact that the ED itself does a lot of telephone watching and has some expertise in the matter. Now that there is a blooming controversy and the Opposition is trying to exploit the episode, it would be in the interests of the government that it entrusts the matter to the IB, which still has a solid reputation for professionalism.

We have an outstanding DIB in Nachal Sandhu who got this position on sheer merit and seniority. He can be expected to ferret out the facts. If this happens, the government owes it to the public to let them know what the IB’s findings are. All this, only if the government of the day or those close to it have nothing to hide!

RK Raghavan is a former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation

Updated Date: Jun 23, 2011 17:41:51 IST



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