The Supreme Court today issued notices to mobile firms and private banks on a public interest petition alleging that they were providing phone numbers of citizens to commercial groups for promotion of sales.
The court observed that this practice not only violated the fundamental right to privacy but also the Telegraph Rules and international norms.
The petitioner, through advocate Vivek Tankha, accused MTNL, Reliance, Hutch and Idea, and HDFC Bank and HSBC, of invading the privacy of citizens by making unsolicited calls offering products and services like credit cards and loans.
A Bench consisting of Justice Santosh Hegde and Justice SB Sinha found substance in the charges and asked these companies to reply within two weeks.
This kind of telemarketing, which is catching up fast as it is cheaper than advertising in newspapers and on television channels, amounted to "invasion of privacy of the subscribers of mobile telephony at all times and hours", and seriously impaired the fundamental rights of citizens, the petitioner charged.
Article 21 of the Constitution, protecting life and liberty, includes the right to privacy, according to several judgments of the Supreme Court.
Moreover, the telegraph rules also prohibit calls being made for commercial purposes to individuals who do not want them. Such calls also cost money to subscribers when their mobile phones are in the roaming mode.
The petitioner wanted the court to direct the government to frame a scheme or pass regulations to protect the privacy of subscribers. He pointed out that the US had passed such a law.
Transferring of data on phone subscribers and clients of the banks should be treated as a violation of the telegraph rules, the petitioner urged.
He also sought a helpline and a forum to register complaints from mobile phone subscribers who have been "harassed" by such unsolicited calls.
The petitioner also urged the court to issue another direction to the government to consider a provision for a "do not call" registry, which would contain the numbers of those who do not want any call from telemarketing companies. Such a facility is available in the US, created by the Federal Communications Commission.