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Accused of espionage, officer takes RTI route for probe info


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Accused of espionage, officer takes RTI route for probe info

as reported by Abhinav Garg 2 Nov 2008 TNN Times of India

NEW DELHI: A former intelligence officer facing trial in a case of espionage, has got Delhi police's special cell on the defensive through deft use of RTI Act.


On his RTI plea, the Central Information Commission has directed special cell to spell out the criteria by which an officer is deemed to be an "expert'' in forensics and cyber crime or to examine electronic evidence.


A Bench headed by the Chief Information Commisioner Wajahat Habibullah further ordered that Delhi police furnish the RTI applicant with a copy of guidelines/order, if any have been issued to the force for handling computer/electronic or cyber evidences during search and seizure by investigating officers.


The directions came on a plea filed by a retired naval commander, Mukesh Saini who is currently being tried for offence of leaking sensitive national security data abroad, under the stringent sections of Official Secrets Act, besides certain sections of IPC. He was picked up by the special cell in 2006 and is accused of espionage while working as electronic security specialist in National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS).


Since an overwhelming portion of evidence lined up against him is in electronic form, comprising hard disk, pen drive and computer floppies allegedly recovered from his office, the accused moved an RTI plea from his cell in Tihar, and sought from DCP special cell information on competence of cyber expert of the Cell. In his application, Saini demanded to know if inspector O P Shrivastav, who has gleaned evidence against him from hard disks and electronic records, is a government scientific expert or a private cyber forensic expert.


Invoking the "life and liberty clause'' under RTI Act (which makes it mandatory for a public authority to furnish information within 48 hours), Saini also sought to know details of cyber forensic tools used by the Special Cell's cyber laboratory. Lastly, he claimed that during his stint with NSCS he helped draft a comprehensive guideline for handling cyber evidence during seizure, which was handed over to MHA for forwarding it to police forces across the country. Saini added this in his plea, seeking to know if such a guideline was being followed by cops.


Predictably, his request for information was declined on the ground it fell under information exempted covered by section 8 (1) (h) of RTI Act, with Delhi police claiming this would "impede the process of investigation.'' His first appeal to Jt CP Karnail Singh yielded similar result, leaving Saini with little choice but to move CIC.


His luck changed at CIC, which in its recent order noted, "since on basis of the inspectors report a criminal case has been launched against Mukesh Saini it is responsibility of the probe agency to justify why they have so deemed....it isn't understandable how providing this information would impede the investigations.''


Accused of espionage, officer takes RTI route for probe info-Delhi-Cities-The Times of India

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