The government has drafted a new telecom bill with the provision of getting phone records of any person without court’s permission.
The draft bill, prepared by Nepal Telecommunication Authority and sent to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, has made provisions for the government to have a direct access to telecommunication service providers’ system.
Article 81 of the bill states, “A government-appointed body investigating cases of acts against Nepal’s sovereignty, integrity and national interests, as well as treason or organized crime or criminal offenses, may record the conversations of any person and obtain information from telecom service providers for investigation.”
In addition to direct access to the service providers’ system, Article 86 of the bill also allows government officials to request details of anyone’s telephone and communication records from telecom service providers.
“If a person is found to have used landline phone, cell phone, or any other type of telecommunication medium to commit a crime or to exchange sensitive information, the officer investigating such crime shall obtain details and information from telecom service providers. Any authority, body or service provider of telecommunication shall provide the details or information relating to the communication to the investigation official.”
The bill also states that any government official can order deactivation of telephone, mobile phone or any other telecommunication services being used by an individual, if the civil servant so desires.
Stating that such provisions in the bill were objectionable, advocate Baburam Aryal, who is well versed in information technology said, “To have a legal provision for an administrative body to obtain such details is against the right to confidentiality stipulated by the constitution. Access to such confidential details of an individual without a court order would result in abuse of power.”
He added that such a provision would give government officials unlimited rights to monitor citizens.
The provisions mentioned in the draft of the bill are also against the order issued by the Supreme Court a few years ago. The Supreme Court’s order dated February 3, 2017 stated that no person’s call details can be taken without the court’s permission. A bench of the then Chief Justice Kalyan Shrestha and Justice Devendra Gopal Shrestha had ordered to take action against both the parties, who demand call details and give the details, without procuring the court’s order.
“Since the executive should also act under the law of the land, uncontrolled access to information cannot be the executive’s prerogative,” the ruling had said.