ISLAMABAD - The Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) tapped 26,940 phone calls across the country in the last four months, says a report submitted in the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

According to the ISI report, it tapped 6,523 phone numbers in February, 6,819 in March, 6,742 in April and 6,856 in May this year, according to a report submitted before a three-judge bench, headed by Justice Saqib Nisar.

The bench was hearing 19-year-old suo moto case. In 1996, former chief justice Sajjad Ali Shah had taken notice of taping phone calls by the intelligence agencies after a spying device was found connected to his phone.

Later, former president Farooq Ahmed Leghari’s counsel during the Benazir Bhutto dismissal case proceedings had informed the Supreme Court that phone tapping of judges by the Benazir regime was a major justification for her government’s ouster.

Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Sajid Illyas Bhatti Wednesday, in compliance of court’s order, submitted a classified report on behalf of ISI before the bench. The apex court on March 18 had directed Bhatti to furnish a concise statement within three weeks regarding the law, if any, under which taping of telephones was permitted.

On May 22, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) had informed the SC that it tapped 5,594 phone calls across the country. Therefore the bench had asked the ISI to submit report on the same matter.

After opening the sealed envelope, the bench went through the classified report wherein it was requested to the court to hear the case in chamber because the matter was of sensitive nature. On ISI’s request, the bench summoned a responsible officer of agency along with DAG in chamber to decide whether the further proceedings of the case be conducted in chamber or not.

During the hearing in courtroom, Justice Saqib said, “We cannot keep this matter under carpet as these are the rights of people. He said if the agencies have legal authority to tape phone calls then they have no objection, but if it is doing the same without lawful authority then it is illegal.”

The bench asked Abdul Hafiz Pirzada, who was present in the courtroom, to assist regarding the matter as ‘it is very sensitive issue’. Upon that Pirzada came at rostrum and expressed willingness to assist the court. Justice Saqib told him that this case is pending since 1996 and now it has been listed again. Giving background of case, he stated that, judges and chief justice’s phones were being taped at that time. Later on, the court had taken notice and the then IB DG was questioned in the chamber regarding the matter, he added.

Justice Saqib told Pirzada that the court has asked two things in its earlier order; first to submit total number of phones, which are being tapped. Second, to tell under what law phones were being tapped and whether law is being followed or not during the process.

After examining the report the court resealed it and returned to DAG Bhatti. It also asked him to come in the chamber along with responsible ISI officer next week to discuss whether further proceedings would be held in-camera or not.