NAPM writes to Telangana CM on police surveillance, seeks review

Hyderabad Desk

Hyderabad: The National Alliance for People’s Movement (NAPM) has demanded the Telangana government to have necessary protocols be placed to stop illegal use of large surveillance infrastructures with oversight on every request of personal data. The NAPM statement comes in the backdrop of startling revelations in recent months that state police personnel under the previous Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) government had illegally snooped on people including activists.

In a long letter to Telangana chief minister A Revanth Reddy, activists from NAPM said that there is a need to have a “critical review” of policing practices and unlawful surveillance practices including the infrastructure that was built over the last 10 years in Telangana, considering its “grave implications” for civil liberties of common people, especially those from diverse vulnerable and marginalised communities.

“In the garb of ‘digital and technological advancements’, some of the policing practices have taken a disturbing turn in Telangana, over the last decade. As citizens, we all have fundamental rights and we exercise them in our everyday activities’ including privacy and freedom of expression, by way of peaceful assembly and protest, which are constitutionally guaranteed rights under article 19 and 21 of the
Constitution,” said the NAPM in its letter to Revanth Reddy.

In a list of demands, the NAPM said that the Telangana government should carry out a comprehensive human rights evaluation by a retired judge of various policing practices that are being employed. Apart from that, the organisation also wants the government to publish the Telangana Police Manual and all the details of policing practices that are being currently employed by the police, including for intelligence activities.

It also sought the appointment of a high-level enquiry commission under the Commission of Inquiry Act,
1952 headed by a retired Supreme Court or High Court judge, to look into the illegal phone tapping cases and issues of illegal surveillance, surveillance infrastructure (360 degree profiling programme) and policing practices mentioned above; to issue recommendations for reforms, to make policing effective and compliant with constitutional and human rights standards, towards controlling crime and protecting the interests and rights of the public.

In the phone-tapping case, which came to light after the Congress government came to power last year, it was revealed that the prior BRS government via State Intelligence Bureau (SIB) officials snooped on opposition members, activists and others. In its letter, NAPM also demanded that intelligence activities be brought under judicial and legislative oversight to stop abuse of policing on democratic opposition.

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“The SOT in SIB under DSP Praneeth Kumar directly monitor and put surveillance over student union leaders and caste organisation leaders who are critical of BRS government, Journalists and High Court judges and advocates who are having important cases of Government and party leaders etc. to find out more details about their personal lives and their activities so that they can be influenced or countered at appropriate times,” stated NAPM.

It raised an alarm against the modernization of policing and “investment” in surveillance infrastructure in Telangana, and said that it has resulted in the police holding excessive, and often arbitrary powers over the citizenry. “The amount of surveillance tools and services used by the Telangana police has increased
exponentially. In a recent case, senior police officials were booked for targeting senior politicians, members of the judiciary, social activists and media by phone tapping and accessing other internet and telephonic communications, illegally,” said NAPM.

Among other things, it also sought an enquiry into the police officials responsible for the custodial torture of Mohammad Khadeer Khan by Medak Town Police, leading to his subsequent death, make the Police Complaints Authority operational across all districts of Telangana, and to install CCTV cameras in all police stations and provide access to footage.

NAPM and the concerned activists also wanted an end to the Hyderabad’s Mission Chabbutra programme in the Old City of Hyderabad. They also said that warrants are never produced by police
during cordon and search and other policing activities in the state, and hence wanted warrants to be accessible.

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