Recording phone conversations without consent violates right to privacy: Chhattisgarh High Court

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The Chhattisgarh High Court recently held that recording phone conversations with persons without their knowledge and consent violates their right to privacy as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

Justice Rakesh Mohan Pandey made the observation while setting aside a family court’s decision to allow a man to present phone conversations with his wife as part of evidence in a maintenance case.

The High Court observed that when a husband records a wife’s conversations without her consent or knowledge, it would amount to a breach of her rights to privacy.

“It appears that the respondent has recorded the conversation of the petitioner (wife) without her knowledge behind her back which amounts to violation of her right to privacy and also the right of the petitioner guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India,” the October 5 order stated.

By way of background, the wife had filed a plea for maintenance before a family court. During these proceedings, the husband submitted an application under Section 311 (power to summon material witness, or examine person present) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to produce certain mobile phone conversations with his wife that he had recorded.

The husband sought to cross-examine his wife on these conversations by getting them admitted as evidence in the family court.

The family court allowed the husband’s application. Aggrieved by the family court order, the wife moved a plea in the High Court seeking to overturn the same.

The wife’s counsel contended before the High Court that admitting the phone conversations would amount to a breach of her right to privacy.

The lawyer further argued that the husband had recorded these phone conversations without the wife’s knowledge. Therefore, these conversations were not admissible as evidence against the wife, it was asserted.

The husband’s counsel countered that he wished to present specific evidence to support his allegations against the wife. It was argued that the husband has a right to confront the wife with such evidence.

The Court, however, was not convinced by the husband’s stance in the matter.

“The Right of Privacy is an essential component of right to life envisaged by Article 21 of the Constitution, therefore, in the opinion of this Court, the learned Family Court has committed an error of law in allowing the application under Section 311 of the CrPC along with the certificate issued under Section 65 of the Indian Evidence Act. Accordingly, the order passed by the learned Family Court on 21.10.2021 in Case No. F118/2019 is hereby set-aside,” the Court held.

The Court also relied on number of judgments on related issues including the Supreme Court judgment in PUCL v Union of India (the phone tapping case) wherein it was held that,

“Telephone conversation is an important facet of a man’s private life. Right to privacy would certainly include telephone-conversation in the privacy of one’s home or office. Telephone-tapping would, thus, infract Article 21 of the Constitution of India unless it is permitted under the procedure established by law.”

The High Court proceeded to set aside the family court order under challenge and allowed the wife’s petition.

Advocate Vaibhav A Goverdhan represented the petitioner-wife. Advocate TK Jha represented the respondent-husband.

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