India becomes a surveillance state; Modi govt authorises agencies to snoop on citizens

Modi govt has allowed 10 intelligence and investigating agencies and Delhi Police to intercept, monitor and decrypt “any information” generated, transmitted, received or stored in “any computer”

Representative image
Representative image

NH Web Desk

In a decision with wide ramifications, the government has allowed 10 intelligence and investigating agencies and the Delhi Police to intercept, monitor and decrypt "any information" generated, transmitted, received or stored in "any computer", an action that has come under attack from opposition parties.

"In exercise of the powers conferred by sub-section (1) of Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (21 of 2000) read with rule 4 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009, the Competent Authority hereby authorises the following Security and Intelligence Agencies for the purposes of interception, monitoring and decryption of any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource under the said Act," an order issued by Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba said.

The 10 agencies are Intelligence Bureau, National Investigation Agency (NIA), Enforcement Directorate (ED), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Narcotics Control Board, Central Board of Direct Taxes, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Cabinet Secretary (RAW), Directorate of Signal Intelligence (for service areas of Jammu and Kashmir, Northeast and Assam only) and Commissioner of Police, Delhi.

The notification made it clear that any subscriber or service provider person in charge of any computer resource is bound to extend all facilities and technical assistance to these agencies.

In case any person or entity refuses to cooperate, it "will face seven years in jail and a fine".

India becomes a surveillance state; Modi govt authorises agencies to snoop on citizens

The Opposition parties, including the CPI(M), the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Trinamool Congress, said they will collectively oppose the Union Home Ministry's order.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala tweeted: "This time, attack on privacy".

"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 Surjewala.

"The sweeping powers given to agencies to snoop phone calls and computers without any checks and balances is extremely worrisome. This is likely to be misused.

"The Government order giving a blanket approval to electronic surveillance is a direct assault on civil liberties and personal freedom of citizens," he tweeted," Ahmed Patel tweeted.

AIMIM and Lok Sabha member, Asaduddin Owaisi, said: "Modi has used a simple government order to permit our national agencies to snoop on our communications. Who knew that this is what they meant when they said ‘ghar ghar Modi'.

"George Orwell's Big Brother is here and welcome to 1984," he had tweeted late on Thursday.

The BJP government, opposition leaders said, was converting the country into a surveillance state.

"From Modi Sarkar to stalker sarkar, clearly the string of losses has left the BJP government desperate for information," the Congress said on its official Twitter handle.

"If anybody is going to monitor the computer, including your computer, that is the Orwellian state. George Orwell is around the corner. It is condemnable," said the party's leader P Chidambaram.

His party colleague Anand Sharma said the BJP government is converting India into a surveillance state through the order.

"It is the ultimate assault on fundamental rights and the right to privacy. It is also in direct conflict with the Supreme Court judgement that right to privacy is a fundamental right. The government has done it by strength we collectively oppose it," Sharma told reporters with other opposition leaders by his side.

He said it gives ultimate powers to state agencies to monitor every information and intercept it through surveillance, which is unacceptable.

Samajwadi Party's Ram Gopal Yadav also termed the order unconstitutional and said the present government should refrain from making such moves with just a few months left for the general 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 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...", she tweeted.

Sukhendu Sekhar Roy labelled the move "draconian" and accused the government of tapping the phones of all opposition leaders.

"Now, they have legalised interception of phone calls and computers. This is a draconian move of the government," he said.

RJD's Manoj Jha said it was a cause of concern for not just parliamentarians, but for every Indian.

"We are perpetually living in a surveillance state," he said.

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury voiced his opposition on Twitter.

"Why is every Indian being treated like a criminal? This order by a govt wanting to snoop on every citizen is unconstitutional and in breach of the telephone tapping guidelines, the Privacy Judgement and the Aadhaar judgement," he said.

AAP's Sanjay Singh also spoke out, saying that the order was "undemocratic and unconstitutional" and an attack on the right to privacy. He alleged that the order was a result of BJP's recent election losses.

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