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SC notice to govt, cell operators
PIL on unsolicited calls on mobile phones
Our Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, February 7
The Supreme Court today took cognizance of a petition seeking protection of mobile phone users’ privacy against “unsolicited telemarketing” calls. The apex court issued notices to the Centre, five mobile phone companies and five private banks asking them to file their replies.

A public interest litigation (PIL) by business and legal consultant Harsh Pathak, moved before a Bench of Mr Justice N. Santosh Hegde and Mr Justice S.B. Sinha, alleged that undesired calls for promotion of business by various companies not only harassed the citizens but also amounted to the violation of their right to privacy.

The notices were issued to ministries of Communications and law and justice, public sector phone company MTNL, private mobile service proviers Hutch, Reliance, Idea, Airtel. The banks included City Bank, HSBC, Standard Chartered, HDFC and the ICICI. All of them were named as respondents by the petitioner.

The petitioner sought a direction to the Union Government to frame laws to “check, regulate and end the endemic invasion of privacy of the mobile subscribers” against such calls by private banks offering loans and credit cards, insurance companies trying to promote their business, finance companies soliciting customers for loans and others trying to sell their products.

He further pleaded the court to issue direction to mobile phone companies prohibiting them to make the data of their subscribers available to any company to use it for commercial purposes.

The unsolicited calls made by the mobile companies and banks and hosts of other companies using telemarketing as a strategy for business promotion, amounted to the violation of Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution, which guaranteed protection of privacy and individuals from being interfered arbitrarily by any one, the PIL said.

Such calls made amidst professional and personal engagements, not only interfered in the private lives of the people, but also caused unnecessary financial loss to the phone users if made on “roaming facilities” at STD and ISD locations, it said citing the laws in the USA which prevented “nuisance” caused to a person by telemarketeers.

“No wonder, practically every mobile phone owner is getting paranoid about privacy. If telemarketing calls are today’s scourge, it is only a matter of time before span starts inundating the cell phones,” it said.

Claiming that such calls were not even allowed under the Indian Telegraph Act, the petitioner said it was a matter of grave concern that the companies making calls were having a total “lack of concern” towards the privacy of people in general and the mobile phone subscribers in particular.

“The right to hold a telephone conversation in the privacy of one’s home or office without interference can certainly be claimed as a right to privacy because telephone conversations are often of an intimate and confidential nature,” the petition said.

Even the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political rights in its Article 17 clearly lays down that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference in his privacy, family, human or correspondence, unlawful attack on his honour and reputation,” it said.

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