The other day, I was invited to the Central Interlligence. Agency's phone-tapping department to have a look at its operations. The director of the department welcomed me: "We are so glad you have come. Nobody writes about us and, in fact, people think we don't exist."
I was taken to a large room where a number of people were sitting with car-phones and tape recorders. Some of them were listening in to conversations and taping them, others were having tea and somoosas. On each desk was a name, indicating whose telephone calls the person was tapping. Among the names I noticed were R. Gandhi (office), R. Gandhi (residence), V. Sathe, D. Lal, A. Nehru, D. Ambani, A. Ambani (Sr.), A. Ambani (Jr.), O.P. Chautala, M. Daryanani, S.C. Shekhar.
The director explained: "We tap the phones round-the-clock working in eight-hour shifts. All conversations are transcripted and then sent to the PMO.
"Do you have enough equipment to tap the phones?" I asked.
"Far from enough," the director said. "You see, so far most of the equipment was imported but the position should improve now that we have started indigenous manufacture. But our requirements are very large way that the waiting-list for telephone tapping equipment is as long as the waiting list of people wanting telephones."
"How do you decide whose telephone to tap?" I asked.
"We tap all the VVIP telephones, that is routine, standard practice. Then there are the lists sent by the various ministers. We can't refuse them, otherwise questions will be aked in parliament why we are not cooperating with such-and-such a minister. So, we have decided: if a man's telephone is to be tapped, and if he has more than one telephone, we will tap only the telephone."
"Does anybody ever object to his telephone being tapped?" I asked.
"Not to us, they have never objected to us. Sometimes they may object to Mr. Pritish Nandy, but that is hearsay," the director said.
"Is there any advice you would like to give to people on the tapping of telephones?" I asked.
"Yes," said the director. "It would ease the burden of the department a lot if more and more people were to follow Mr. Arun Shourie's example and tap their own telephone and supply transcripts."
"Very well," I said. "Now, can you tell me that a person should do if he does not want his telephone to be tapped?"
"He should not have a telephone," the director said.