ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has raised questions over the systematic leaks of audio clips and observed that the matter pertains to “rights of a citizen to liberty and privacy as guaranteed by Articles 9 and 14 of the Constitution”.
On Thursday, the court appointed noted lawyers and lawmakers as amici to assist the court in the matter of audio leaks.
Through its written order issued on the petition of Najam Saqib, son of former CJP Saqib Nisar, IHC Justice Babar Sattar appointed Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, Makhdoom Ali Khan, Mian Raza Rabbani and Mohsin Shahnawaz Ranjha as amici to assist the court.
The court concluded that the Prime Minister Office, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defence and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, being regulator of the telecom industry, be impleaded as necessary parties in the petition.
Aitzaz, Makhdoom, Rabbani, Ranjha picked to assist court; NA body seeks bank details from ex-CJP’s son, others
The court directed the respondents to “explain whether there exists a legal framework for recording of telephone conversations between citizens, and in the event that the answer is yes, the report will detail the regulatory and oversight framework to provide for recording of phone calls or exchange of data/messages between citizens through any telecommunication means”.
These respondents will identify the entities and agencies that have the requisite technological capability to record telephone calls and/or surveil telecommunication.
The IHC also asked them to identify the legal mechanism for grant of permission authorising recording of telephone conversations between citizens and the safeguards adopted to ensure that to the extent that any phone calls are permitted by law to be recorded their confidentiality is preserved and any such recording is not leaked or used for extraneous purposes.
The respondents were told to explain if any measures have been taken by them to investigate who has undertaken or is undertaking audio recording of conversations of citizens and how are such conversations being released to the public, given that such releases are within the knowledge of the federal government as it has formed a high-powered commission to ascertain the authenticity of conversations that have been released or leaked.
Report sought from NA
Likewise, the court sought a report from the lower house of parliament over the jurisdiction vested in the office of National Assembly speaker to constitute committees under the Constitution and rules regulating parliamentary procedures and the authority to constitute a special committee to investigate a phone conversation matter involving citizens, who are neither public office-holders nor members of parliament.
Justice Sattar posed the questions for the amici, as well as the attorney general, whether “parliament [is] vested with legal authority to inquire into and investigate acts of private citizens who hold no public office or whether assuming such power intrudes into the domain of the executive?”
The order asks, “To the extent that recording of phone calls is permitted, which public authority or agency is authorised to do so, how is the right of a citizen to liberty and privacy to be balanced against the interest of the State in recording phone calls or undertaking surveillance and which agency is vested with legal authority to undertake such balancing exercise?”
The court further asked that “in the event that there is no legal sanction to tap phones, record telecommunication between citizens or undertake surveillance, which public authority or agency is to be held liable for such surveillance and encroachment over the right of citizens to liberty and privacy and/or release of illegally recorded private conversations to the public?”
NA body seeks bank details
Meanwhile, the NA committee probing audio leaks has sought bank details of former CJP’s son and other two persons, including a ticket holder.
It may be mentioned that an audio clip purportedly featuring the ex-CJP’s son, wherein he was demanding a “reward” for getting a “job done for a PTI candidate”, went viral on social media. NA Committee Chairman Aslam Bhootani said they were providing an opportunity to the ex-CJP’s son to explain his position and sought details of his bank accounts and the other suspects in the case.
Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2023