We all are familiar with the term ‘spying’,sometimes it is also called ‘espionage’. If we try to trace the history of Spying we have to recall the chapters of our ancient history text book. From the mention of ‘ancient history’ it is very clear that the practice of spying dates back to centuries ago. In early times kings would have their spy agents who would procure secret information for the king from various sources. They were called “guptachar” by the king. The practice of spying continues even today, the change which can be noticed in this practice is the change of lifestyle of spy agents and their mode of working. They are hired by different intelligence agencies,corporations and government to procure secret information from non disclosed sources.

Thus,we can define spying as the process of obtaining valuable secret information from the host of such information which may prove harmful to the host of such information if leaked. The information thus received from the way of spying is used by the procurer to counteract the enemy. The practice of spying is clandestine, as it is by definition unwelcome. It is not exhaustively an illegal practice; it may be a legal tool of law enforcement.

Almost all the nations have strict laws to encounter spying so that valuable secret information can not reach to the enemy nation. The punishment for this offence is also very severe in nature.

Laws associated with Espionage

Official secret Act (1923): The act dates back to colonial British era but today also it is used as an anti-espionage act. It states clearly that actions which involve helping an enemy state against India are strongly condemned. It also states that one cannot approach, inspect, or even pass over a prohibited government site or area. According to this Act, helping the enemy state can be in the form of communicating a sketch, plan, model of an official secret, or of official codes or passwords, to the enemy.

Prosecution and penalties:Punishment under this act range from 3 years to life imprisonment(if intent is to declare war against the state). A person prosecuted under this Act can be charged with the crime even if the action was unintentional and not intended to endanger the security of the state. The Act only empowers persons in positions of authority to handle official secrets, and others who handle it in prohibited areas or outside them are liable for punishment. The journalists have to help the police officers above the rank of sub inspector and military officers during the investigation. Under the Act, search warrants may be issued at any time if the magistrate determines that based on the evidence there is enough danger to the security of the state.

Uninterested members of the public may be excluded from court proceedings if the prosecution feels that any information which is going to be passed on during the proceedings is sensitive. This also includes media.
Just like, when a company is seen as the offender under this Act, everyone involved with the management of the company, including the board of directors, can be liable for punishment. In the case of Media also, everyone – including the editor, publisher and the proprietor — can be imprisoned for an offence.

Recent cases of Spying in India

ISRO spying case of S. Nambi Narayanan: S.Nambi Narayanan is an Indian scientist and an aerospace engineer. As a senior official at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), he was in-charge of the cryogenics division. In 1994, he was falsely charged with espionage and arrested. The charges against him were dismissed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in 1996, and the Supreme Court of India declared him not guilty in 1998.

In 2018, the Supreme Court through the bench of Dipak Misra awarded Narayanan a compensation of ₹50 lakh, to be recovered from the government of Kerala within eight weeks, and the apex court also constituted a committee headed by retired Supreme Court judge D. K. Jain to inquire into the role of officials of the Kerala police in the arrest of Narayanan. He was awarded India’s third highest civilian award the Padma Bhushan in 2019.

Image of former ISRO scientist S.Nambi Narayanan

Spying case of SK Sharma: He was another ISRO scientist accused of spying and passing secret informations to pakistan. He was cleared of all charges related to spying. He was hoping to be compensated for the allegations after former ISRO scientist, Nambi Narayanan, was cleared of espionage charges and compensated with Rs. 50 lakh for “unnecessary harassment” by the Kerala Police. He was suffering from cancer thus died recently.

The Hindu case: The leading newspaper of our country “The Hindu” was accused of revealing secret information related to Rafael deal. This information was claimed by attorney general before a 3 judge bench of Supreme Court during hearing of Rafael case. The court said that RTI act 2005 can override official secret 1923 if the disclosed matter is of public importance. Thus, it’s not a case of spying.

Delhi court judgement in the case involving journalist Santanu Saikia:
A Delhi court in a 2009 judgement, in a case involving the publication of excerpts of a cabinet note in the Financial Express ten years earlier by Santanu Saikia, greatly reduced the powers of the act by ruling publication of a document merely labelled “secret” shall not render the journalist liable under the law.

Saikia was arrested in February 2015 in another case that the police said involved the writing of stories and analyses from documents allegedly stolen from the government. He was released on bail in May after spending 80 days in jail.


Beside the above mentioned cases of spying we can hear several cases of spying done by people even by military men who are caught in honey traps. Few days ago we have heard of an army man caught of furnishing secret information to a girl agent of ISI with whom he was in love.

Thus,we can finally say that spying is considered as an unwelcome activity by government and the government tries to counter these activities at any cost by using law and its different organs.


I am Devesh Tripathi currently studying in Banaras Hindu University.I am also owner of a website in which I used to publish news related to legal arena.I write blogs on legal issues and currently working as an intern with law escort team.
View Profile View All Posts