The Narendra Modi government’s late night order authorising 10 central agencies to intercept, monitor and decrypt information contained in “any” computer system rocked Parliament on Friday, with the Opposition terming it an assault on fundamental rights.
The Congress and other opposition parties also accused the government of trying to turn India into a “surveillance state” by resorting to “snooping”.
A Congress-led opposition attacked the government on its executive order alleging that it was an encroachment on the fundamental right to privacy and will turn India into a police state.
Leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, on Friday said an “undeclared emergency” has been imposed on the country through this executive order. Deputy leader of Congress, Anand Sharma, said the order encroaches on the right to privacy which is a fundamental right. Sweeping powers have been given to the government agencies and India will become a police state, he said.
The government rebutted these allegations and emphasised that only the laid out process of repeating such orders has been followed.
Borrowing from the terminology of Article 19 (2), Section 69 of the Information Technology Act states that when somebody is playing with national security, defence of India, public order and integrity of India, the authorised agencies have the right to intercept and nab terrorists.
Jaitley alleged the Congress was playing with national security even as Azad alleged BJP had the habit of bringing national security in every issue, as if it was their property and others have no concern for it.
“What you are doing is making a mountain where even a molehill does not exist. You must know this and the leader of the opposition must know that your words are precious and sacrosanct. Do not use it for a purpose where power has been created by you and which is to be used for national security cases. You are crying foul about it,” Jaitley said.
Law minister RS Prasad said: “Larger issue is that, from the point of view of national security, this is important… Its mechanism is accountable, perceptible and transparent.”
Cyber law expert Pavan Duggal said the government was well within its rights to issue such a notification as the Supreme Court had upheld in 2015 the legal validity of Section 69 of the Information Technology (IT) Act. “However, with the top court’s judgment later declaring the right to privacy a fundamental right, the powers under the provision need to be looked afresh. To utilise such sweeping powers in the right manner will also be a challenge,” said Duggal, president of Cyberlaws.net.
In a clarificatory statement, the Home ministry said adequate safeguards were provided in the IT Act, and similar provisions and procedures already existed in the Telegraph Act along with “identical safeguards”. The ministry said “each case” of such computer interception, monitoring and decryption was “to be approved by the competent authority, which is the Union home secretary”.
“The present notification is analogous to the authorisation issued under the Telegraph Act. The entire process is also subject to a robust review mechanism as in the case of the Telegraph Act. Every individual case will continue to require prior approval of the Home ministry or state government. The MHA has not delegated its powers to any law enforcement or security agency,” it said.