Private Detective Azaadi….?
By Maxwell Pereira
mfjpkamath@gmail.com

The arrest by Delhi Police of Bhupinder Singh in the Amar Singh phone-tapping case has put in focus the issue of private detectives and what governs their activities. Bhupinder was running a Detective Agency, we are told. Who made him a private detective, who authorised him, does he have a license or certification from any authority to be a private detective or to run a detective agency, is not stated or disclosed anywhere.

I believe we have never known a time when private detectives were not around. And through growing up, detectives were heroes, and etective novels were a great hit, forming bulk of the reading indulged in - much to the ire of parents and educators. There was always something romantic about detective activity, something very exciting. But rarely did one come across a private detective in real life - unlike I believe, the great demand they are in, in present times.

A private detective is a person who acts as, advocates to be, advertises or otherwise represents that the person is a private detective, private investigator or special investigator. The term "private detective" worldwide has today come to mean - a person who engages in the business of making investigations for remuneration concerning matters like - Crimes or wrongs done or threatened against the State; the identity, conduct, business, honesty, activity, movement, whereabouts, affiliations, associations, transactions, acts, reputation or character of any person, if such information is obtained in secret, without the knowledge of the person being observed; the location, disposition or recovery of lost or stolen property; the cause or responsibility for fires, libels, losses, accidents, damage, injury or death; Securing evidence to be used before any court, public board, officer, or investigating committee.

In India though, private detective activity revolves mainly around pre and post marital investigations. But detective agencies also foray into other areas - like corporate, financial and personal investigations, property deals, surveillance over individuals, verification of antecedents and documents, of businesses and of businessmen and so on. All detective agencies are quite complacent though over the fact that any prying they do for information, is totally above board, since according to general perception there are no strong privacy laws in the country which are easily enforceable, and there is no regulation of detective activity or of detective agencies.

Which has led to dual standards in dealing with violations committed on what is considered individual privacy - as witnessed in the handling of a series of 'sting' operations that exposed many a scam 'midst us in 2005. Earlier, with all the hype the Tehlka sting on the likes of Bangaru Laxman etc attracted, no action whatsoever to penalise those who were caught on tape did materialise. However, in the cash-for-question scam we made history with the expulsion from Parliament of eleven of its elected members. The spying done in this expose was accepted by all as in public interest. In the present instance though, the phone-tapping of Amar Singh has been attempted to be catapulted into a national debate over the violation of his privacy.

Phone tapping in India by law is not permissible, except for matters involving national security, affecting international relations, and of crime. However, for a people who have grown used to listening in on other people's conversations thanks to cross-connections that plagued our communication services, we have blunted ourselves to the seriousness of this malady that exists more in violation than in practise. So much so, while phone-tapping cannot at all be in the realm of any private activity, there was this reputed detective who last weekend was openly boasting in a television programme, of how he goes about tapping merrily a spouse's telephone after obtaining an 'authorisation' from the other spouse! And how this Delhi detective whose business card reads "Winner of World's Best Detective Award" has not tasted jail for this illegal activity, beats me!

There are high flier dealers in town who boast today of having provided the latest of surveillance equipment to government agencies in the intelligence and regular policing wings, to Corporates and business houses, and even to private individuals. Equipment from CCTVs to gadgetry that lets you tap phones, bug offices, hack computers, read people's emails, and sms messages and what have you. And of course, high-resolution secret cameras that help you score with sting operations!

Setting up a detective agency anywhere in the world, needs a license or certification from the competent regulatory authority - be it from the chief of police or the designated department of the government. In India one can set up shop - I mean a detective agency, merely by registering the business activity under the Shops and Establishment Act or by registering the firm with the Registrar of Companies under the Companies Act. In many cases detectives operate even without registering their business. There is no one to stop, there is no one to check or regulate the activity.

Even 58 years after independence, it is a matter of shame that we have not found the need to regulate the activities of those who want to spy or pry on us. That is because we are a people who neither have, nor learnt to have respect for the privacy of another. Individual privacy needs to be sacrosanct, and should not be violated other than in extreme circumstances and then only under stringent of restrictive conditions and in the rarest of rare cases as provided in law.

900words: 10.01..2006: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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