New Delhi: The Ministry of Home Affairs issued an order that gave 10 investigating agencies, including Delhi police, the authority to spy, intercept, monitor and decrypt all information on any computer device in the country.
These 10 investigating agencies are Intelligence Bureau, Narcotics Control Bureau, Enforcement Directorate, Central Board of Direct Taxes, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Central Bureau of Investigation, National Investigation Agency, Cabinet Secretariat (R&AW), Directorate of Signal Intelligence (For service areas of Jammu & Kashmir, North-East and Assam only) and Commissioner of Police, Delhi.
The MHA has given this authority to these agencies under Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and Rule 4 of the Information Technology Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009. Under the authority, the agencies could not only spy on your devices and calls but could also seize them.
The ministry said that the agencies can do so if the Central Government finds that an entitiy is posing a threat to “interest of the sovereignty or integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence relating to above or for investigation of any offence”.
This order mandates any subscriber or service provider or any person in charge of any computer resource to extend all facilities and technical assistance to the agencies. As per 69 (1) of the Information Technology Act, 2000, the notification also invites seven-year imprisonment and fine if anyone does not adhere by the order.
With this new development, these agencies which already enjoy the power to tap phone calls with permission from Union Home Secretary, are now authorised to intercept any information of the citizens from their computer resources.
Soon after the order was imposed, it attracted critical attacks from Congress and other opposition parties. “Modi Govt mocks and flouts Fundamental ‘Right to Privacy’ with brazen impunity! Having lost elections, now wants to scan/snoop your computers ? ‘Big Brother Syndrome’ is truly embedded in NDA’s DNA!,” tweeted Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala.
Samajwadi Party’s Ram Gopal said that the government should not “dig potholes” just a few months before the Lok Sabha elections. “This government has only a few months left and it should not dig potholes for itself as a new government will be installed in the centre soon,” he said.
TMC chief Mamata Banerjee said that Central government already has machinery for national security and took to Twitter to criticise the order. “I have come to know that Union Home Ministry has issued an order yesterday authorising 10 Central Agencies to carry out interception, monitoring and decryption of any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource. If it is for National Security, then only for that purpose Central Government already has the machinery. But why all commoners will be affected? Public Opinion please…”
In response to the tweet, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said: “On 20 December, same order of authorisation was repeated that was existing since 2009. You are making a mountain where a molehill does not exist. The authorization given to these agencies were brought to law under the UPA government in 2009. We cannot gain access to anybody’s phone or data unless it is related to national security.”
The order was not quite warmly accepted and received critics from the citizens as well. People called it unconstitutional, a violation of the Supreme Court’s order and “void of vagueness.”
The move has drawn criticism, with many calling it dangerous, and saying that this could be the beginning of further surveillance on citizens by the government.