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The Orwellian Future-active Intervention:

Imagine this scenario. Terrorist A sends SMSes from Malad in Mumbai to terrorists B in Colaba and C in Bandra. The SMS asks B and C to meet at Juhu beach, at 6 p.m. As B and C are moving, it becomes difficult to nab them by their cellphone location. The police alter the SMS from A and send an SMS saying "meet at Kalaghoda at 5 p.m." to B and "meet at Regal Cinema at 6 p.m." to C. B and C, believing that the SMS was from A, respond accordingly. The police nab all three in a smooth operation.

Most anti-terror agencies can actually carry out such operations. Active off-air interception allows the police to virtually act as cellphone towers and thus modify or block SMSes and calls. The machine can be vehicle-mounted and can follow the target in urban areas where conventional surveillance fails to track moving suspects. Security agencies say they have elaborate internal regulations to control the use of this technology.

In Mumbai, for instance, the Crime Branch needs written authorisation from the police commissioner to use this machine. However, the temptation to misuse it for political espionage and personal gains is high. Conscious of its potential for misuse, the Uttar Pradesh ATS has recently declined to acquire this tool. There is no guarantee that others will display such resolve.

"Civil liberties are far too important to be left to the executive or the home secretary. There is EVERY DANGER OF WRONG PERMISSIONS being given out and indiscriminate tapping." - Rajinder Sachar, Former Chief Justice, Delhi High Court

"Phone tapping needs to be done ONLY IN THE RAREST OF RARE cases where there is occurrence of any PUBLIC EMERGENCY or in the interests of PUBLIC SAFETY." - Y.P. Singh, IPS officer-turned-lawyer

"LEAKING TAPES are like leaking official secrets, it not only adversely effects a particular individual but is also HARMFULTO INVESTIGATIONS and the prosecution process."- Arun Bhagat, Former Director, IB

By Ashish Khetan, Bhavna Vij-Aurora and Sandeep Unnithan
Reproduced From India Today. 2010. LMIL. All rights reserved.