Web Desk Published: 1 June at 06:32 | Updated: 4 June at 06:32
Justice Babar Sattar Issues Notice to National Assembly Secretary, Raises Questions on Surveillance and Secret Recordings
Following the Islamabad High Court's (IHC) request to the government to identify the parties responsible for recording audios, Justice Babar Sattar has issued a notice to the Secretary of the National Assembly, raising several crucial questions. These questions primarily inquire about the legality of surveillance and secret recordings of citizens under the law.
The seven-page order sheet was issued in response to a petition filed by Najam Saqib, son of former Chief Justice Nisar, who challenged a special committee formed by National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf to investigate audio clips allegedly featuring his voice.
Najam argued in his plea that the proceedings of the Aslam Bhootani-led National Assembly special committee should be halted. Consequently, the IHC suspended the committee and demanded clarity on the individuals behind the leaks.
In the detailed order, the court has directed the National Assembly to provide answers to five key questions related to the matter. These questions range from the authority of parliament to investigate private citizens to the agency authorized to record calls and conduct surveillance on private individuals.
The order also seeks clarification from the National Assembly secretary regarding the public authority or agency responsible for surveillance if it is determined that there were no legal grounds for such recordings.
The questions raised in the order are as follows:
- Does parliament possess the legal authority to investigate the actions of private citizens who do not hold public office, or does such power infringe upon the executive's domain?
- Does the Constitution or parliamentary rules grant the National Assembly speaker the authority to establish a special committee to investigate actions attributable to a private citizen who is neither a member of parliament nor a public officeholder?
- Does the Constitution or statutory law empower the executive, specifically the federal government in this case, to record or surveil phone calls or telecommunications between private citizens? If so, what is the supervisory and regulatory framework governing such recording and surveillance?
- If phone call recordings are permitted, which public authority or agency is authorized to carry out such activities? How should the right to liberty and privacy of citizens be balanced against the state's interest in recording calls and conducting surveillance? Which agency possesses the legal authority to undertake this balancing exercise?
- In the absence of legal authorization for phone tapping, recording of communications, or surveillance, which public authority or agency should be held accountable for such surveillance and infringement upon the rights to liberty, privacy, and the release of illegally recorded private conversations to the public?
Najam Saqib filed a petition on Tuesday seeking the suspension of the committee's proceedings and a halt to any punitive actions. He argued that the alleged audios violated his privacy and constituted illegal surveillance. He requested the court to declare the recording of private conversations as a violation of basic human rights.
Additionally, he claimed that the committee formed by the National Assembly speaker to investigate the audios was unlawful. The summons issued by the committee secretary, without an actual committee meeting, to Najam, his father, and two others were also deemed illegal in the petition.
However, the IHC registrar's office raised objections to the petition, citing that the matter was already pending before the Supreme Court. The registrar argued that a single petition cannot encompass two different types of pleas, as the petitioner challenged the committee's notification while also requesting a declaration of the audio recording as illegal.
On May 3, National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf established a special committee to investigate the audio recording involving Najam, in which he allegedly offered to sell a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) ticket to a candidate of the Punjab provincial assembly. Mohammad Aslam Bhootani was appointed as the committee