Ramesh Chennithala moved the Kerala HC against the Circulars issued by the Police authorising collection of CDRs
Ramesh Chennithala moved the Kerala HC against the Circulars issued by the Police authorising collection of CDRs

Kerala HC disposes of plea against Police use of COVID-19 patients' call data; restrains use of data that would infringe right to privacy

The plea filed by Kerala's Leader of Opposition, Ramesh Chennithala assailed a circular to this effect as violative of privacy, obtained without consent or legislative backing, and as an undue extension of police powers

The Kerala High Court has disposed of a plea challenging a circular issued by the State Police Chief enabling the department to collect Call Detail Records (CDRs) of COVID-19 patients and suspects (Ramesh Chennithala v. State of Kerala).

The petition had been filed by the Kerala State Congress President and Leader of Opposition in Kerala Legislative Assembly, Ramesh Chennithala.

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A Bench of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly disposed of the petition today.

The operative part of the Court’s order today directs the respondents to maintain the confidentiality of the data collected as affirmed before the Court and restrains its further use.

The State and the Police have been granted the liberty to issue a fresh circular with a clarification in terms of its submissions in Court; that patients' CDRs are used are only for the purpose of tracing out the tower location.

During hearings on Wednesday, the State had submitted that the CDRs received were erased after fourteen days. The State also informed the Court that the patients’ mobile tower details were collected solely to ascertain the patient’s location when making/receiving calls and that confidentiality was maintained.

Chennithala had moved the Kerala High Court seeking to quash the circular, which directs the Additional Director General of Police (Intelligence) and the Police Headquarters to liaise with BSNL and Vodafone to procure the CDRs.

Describing the collection of CDRs as an illegal expansion of police powers, the Writ Petition, filed through Advocate T Asaf Ali, challenged the collection of call data as “illegal, unfair, unjust, arbitrary, fanciful and oppressive.”

The violation of the fundamental right to privacy was an additional ground under which the petitioner questioned the legality of the circular.

The plea had made reference to the Supreme Court’s judgment in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India as well as a Telangana High Court order that had said,

“An emergency of any sort is not an excuse to trample on the rights under Article 21 and the Courts have the power to see that the State will act in a fair, just and reasonable manner even during emergencies. Whether the State has done so or not is judicially reviewable in the light of the law laid down by the Supreme Court.”

While it was claimed that the CDRs are collected for contact tracing, the petitioner stated that collecting CDRs without their anonymisation and storing them with an unknown agency violates Central Government Guidelines and the Kerala High Court’s Interim Order in the Sprinklr case.

Such a collection, while impinging on the rights of patients, would also lay the data open to misuse by ‘undesirable elements’ for commercial and pecuniary gain, the petitioner had contended.

The plea further averred that the exercise was undertaken without the informed voluntary consent of the patients, on the strength of “a vague circular which does not disclose the need and use of CDRs, manner of storing CDRs and the agency which is authorised to store CDRs collected.”

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