The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday directed the Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) to ask the federal government to devise a legal framework for electronic surveillance as he continued proceedings into petitions filed against the leak of two private conversations.
“How is electronic surveillance being done, and who is doing it? Who is the competent authority for taking decision of recording phone calls? The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) says they have not permitted anyone to listen to third party conversations,” observed Justice Babar Sattar while hearing petitions filed by PTI chief Imran Khan’s wife Bushra Bibi and Najamus Saqib, son of former chief justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar, against the recording and leaking of their private conversations.
“Audios from the Prime Minister’s Office, a Supreme Court judge and a former chief justice’s family were leaked,” noted Justice Sattar. “It is a terrible decision to do so without taking the state of Pakistan into confidence,” he said.
During proceedings, AGP Mansoor Usman Awan informed the court that the audio leaks in question had yet to be probed. He further argued that Saqib’s petition had become infructuous after the dissolution of the National Assembly and the parliamentary committee tasked with probing allegations against him. To this, Justice Sattar observed that Bushra Bibi’s petition had challenged a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) inquiry over her leaked audio, which remained in the field. Senator Raza Rabbani, as amicus curiae of the court, suggested the court should have referred the matter back to the parliamentary committee instead of examining it.
Stating that it remained unclear who had recorded the audio, the AGP sought an in-camera hearing of all institutions capable of audio surveillance. He also admitted that the parliamentary committee should not have started proceedings on the audio tape of an individual.
Noting that it appeared that the leaked audios were recorded without the permission and knowledge of the government, Justice Sattar directed the AGP to take up the matter with the prime minister and the federal cabinet. “There is no legal framework for such surveillance; we cannot allow listening of conversations in offices, chambers by a third party,” he remarked, assuring the AGP his arguments would be heard at length. He also noted that the FIA was investigating an audio whose origins it had yet to determine. Similarly, he observed, the government had formed a judicial commission to probe the audio leaks but had not explicitly spelled out an investigation into who leaked the audios in the terms of reference.