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On Wednesday, the National Assembly meeting passed the controversial bill regarding the legalization of phone tapping in Nepal. Now the bill will be forwarded to the House of Representatives. If the bill is passed by the House of Representatives too, then the phone can be legally tapped by intelligence officers.
The phone has been an extremely important part of our daily life since its inception. People can communicate across the world within seconds. It has made our life easy but everything has positive and negative aspects. Though phones have more positive aspects, their misuse can create several negative aspects regarding which phone tapping is a hot topic in several countries.
The parliament members who forwarded the bill are concerned about the security of the nation. The bill mentions the right to tap the conversations of those working against the national interest, national security, sovereignty, independence, and the constitution.
The parliamentarians in favor of the bill, opine that the tapping is mainly intended to observe the activities of foreign intelligence agencies in Nepal. But there are equal voices against the bill as it hampers people’s right to privacy. They also suspect the people in power to use it as a tool to silence the opponents.
The bill is also said to state a condition for the misuse of phone interception. As known, the one who misuses phone interception is liable to life imprisonment and such cases will only be heard in a special court.
Telephone tapping, also known as wiretapping and phone interception, is the activity of monitoring the telephone conversation and Internet-based conversations by a third party in a secretive way. Phone tapping in a general term and that with the legal authority by the government is called Lawful Interception.
Phone tapping is not yet legal in Nepal but there are some countries such as Ukraine and Canada, where phone tapping is lawful under certain terms and conditions. It means, these countries accept phone tapping only by government or law enforcement, only under distinct laws.
The new Civil Code and Criminal Codes introduced in 2017 are considered as a milestone in the legal system of Nepal. Article 28 of the Nepal Constitution 2017 has declared the right to privacy and protection of information as a fundamental right.
Muluki Criminal (Code) Act 2017 criminalizes some conduct such as unauthorized tapping of a voice conversation, taking and editing photos of a person without consent, breach of confidentiality, and breach of privacy of information in electronic media.
The Privacy Act 2018 seeks to ensure the right to privacy of the body, property, residence, data, documents, and communication. It also states how the personal information available in public entities should be utilized.
If the phone tapping gets legalized in Nepal, Nepali Telecom operators will perhaps need to invest hugely on special equipment and that also needs some time to implement.
For a traditional copper-based PSTN landline phone, the tapping could be done just by clipping a phone to the wire wherever they can. But for the purpose of lawful interception of IP telephony and Mobile based services, Telco needs to put additional system and equipment.
Such interception of calls and data usage details through IP is even more complex as there is no fixed route and has multiple layers of authentication to bypass.
Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) allows the telecoms to adopt the required technology and equipment for a lawful interception and call details of VoIP calls (Should not be confused with illegal call bypass), as found in their VoIP regulation document of NTA as:
Though NTA had long before envisioned Centralized Lawful Interception and Monitoring System (CLIMS), we do not know if it has been formulated in any regulations. So, it seems no solution has been devised for such centralized tapping of mobile and IP calls.
A few years back, a case of call details misuse was encountered during the investigation of a murder of Supreme Court Justice, Rana Bahadur Bam. There was an incident where security personnel was found reading private messages of people for fun that was not even related to the case. It is a straight violation of the right to privacy. That time onwards, the investigative officials are not authorized to intercept the phone, message details without the permission of the court because there is a high possibility of private and confidential data leaking.
But after the legalization of the phone tapping, the authorities or special forces can listen, record, and analyze any phone calls without the need of court letters. They won’t need any support from the telecom operators and nor there be any record of the tapping.
The phone tapping for law enforcement agencies could be done from their own premises, only after the required technology and the system be in place from the operator’s side. The Telcos have no option but to adhere to government regulation, after the endorsement of the bill and install those intercepting systems and equipment afterward.
Phone tapping is proposed by parliament certainly to ensure the country’s security and prevent heinous crimes. Phone tapping enables enforcement to produce strong evidence against suspects and potential criminals. It helps the security personnel to solve crimes such as secession, drug trafficking, money laundering, and terrorism.
But, it violates the right to privacy that a human being has all around the world. It is a fundamental right of a person ensured by the constitution, from which one should not be deprived of. Misuse of private and confidential data again leads to offenses like character assassination, suicide, homicide, etc. In the current scenario where heinous acts like data breaching and data theft are one click away, phone tapping can just worsen the scenario.
What do you think, will the data of Nepalese be secure after the legalization of phone tapping?