SC issues notice to Centre on ‘snooping’ order, seeks response within six weeks

New Delhi: The Supreme Court issued a notice to the government and sought a response, within six weeks, on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed against the Ministry of Home Affairs’ notification authorising 10 central agencies to intercept, monitor and decrypt any computer system. 

The apex court earlier had denied an early hearing in the case. But now, the government’s move to give investigating agencies sweeping powers to intercept and monitor data on computers will be examined by the Supreme Court.

The petitions by lawyer Shreya Singhal, her co-petitioner and Trinamool Congress lawmaker Mahua Moitra, Supreme Court lawyer ML Sharma and others alleged that the government’s order is against the fundamental right to privacy and must be cancelled in the interest of justice.

“The order by the Home Ministry violates privacy and we so wanted a stay on it. The court has issued notice to the Home Ministry… After six weeks the Supreme Court will look into our prayer on staying the notification,” NDTV quotes Singhal as saying.

Shreya Singhal became the first person to challenge the now-scrapped Section 66(A) of the Information Technology Act in the Supreme Court at teh age of 24, when she was a student of law.

The petition, filed by advocate Manohar Lal Sharma, seeks quashing of the government’s December 20 order which empowers the agencies to intercept any computer under the Information Technology (IT) Act. 

According to the notification, the subscriber or service provider or any person in charge of the computer resource will be bound to extend all facilities and technical assistance to the agencies, but failing to do so will invite seven-year imprisonment and fine.

The 10 agencies notified under the new order include — Intelligence Bureau, Narcotics Control Bureau, Enforcement Directorate, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (for Income Tax Department), Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Central Bureau of Investigation, National Investigation Agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, Directorate of Signal Intelligence (in service areas of J-K, North East and Assam) and Delhi Police commissioner.

The government received flak for its order when the Opposition accused the Centre of running a “police state”. The government later clarified that “no new powers” had been conferred to the agencies, and that the same rules were brought in by the UPA government in 2009.