The Rajya Sabha was on on Friday, December 21, adjourned for the day amid ruckus over the Modi government order to give central investigative agencies and the Delhi Police sweeping powers to intercept computers.
As soon as the House reassembled at 2.30 p.m after an earlier adjournment, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad raised the issue of interception order issued by the Union Home Ministry on Thursday. His party colleague Anand Sharma also joined in raising the issue.
This led to heated exchange between the opposition and treasury benches. Deputy Chairman Harivansh pleaded to the members to restore order in the House. As both sides refused to relent, the Chair adjourned the House for the day.
Later, the Opposition came down heavily on the Narendra Modi government, demanding the withdrawal of the order saying it was a brazen assault on the citizens fundamental right to privacy and an attempt to create an Orwellian state.
The government sought to defend the move saying it was only repeating the order under Rules that were "existing since 2009".
The order issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Thursday December 20 authorised 10 central security and investigative agencies and the Delhi Police to intercept, monitor and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer.
The agencies so authorised include the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) among others.
Expressing alarm over the order, the Congress accused the Modi government of turning India into a "surveillance state" and said the opposition will collectively raise the issue in Parliament.
"This is a very serious development, through this order the Modi government is turning India into a surveillance state.
"It is the ultimate assault on the fundamental right to privacy and is in direct conflict with the Supreme Court's order, which held right to privacy as a fundamental right," said Congress leader and former Union Minister Anand Sharma.
He also claimed that a host of people including Supreme Court and High Court judges and politicians' phones were being tapped.
"The MHA order is unacceptable in any democracy and we collectively oppose it. The opposition will unitedly raise this issue in Parliament. But as this government is unwilling to do, that is why it is not allowing Parliament to function," added Sharma.
West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee said a "blanket surveillance is bad in law."
"If it is for National Security, then only for that purpose Central Government already has the machinery. But, why all commoners will be affected? Isn't this dangerous," asked Banerjee on twitter seeking public opinion over the issue.
The Communist Party on India (Marxist) (CPI-M) said the order was unconstitutional and demanded it be immediately rescinded.
"Why is every Indian being treated like a criminal? This order by a government wanting to snoop on every citizen is unconstitutional and in breach of the telephone tapping guidelines, the privacy judgment and the Aadhaar judgment," CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury tweeted.
The politburo, in a statement said "the track record of this government is harassing and persecuting citizens who do not share the RSS/BJP viewpoint" and demanded the MHA order be immediately withdrawn.
The 2009 rules provide that an order of interception or monitoring of any computers can be issued only by the secretary of the MHA at the Centre and in case of “emergency” such an order can be issued by an officer not below the rank of Joint Secretary to the Government of India.
Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal said India was under "undeclared emergency" since May 2014 when BJP came to power at the Centre.
"Now, in its last couple of months, the Modi govt is crossing all limits by seeking control of even the citizens computers. Can such curtailment of fundamental rights be tolerated in world's largest democracy," he said on twitter.
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Manoj Jha said "This goes on to confirm that we are living in an Orwellian state. It is a challenge and dangerous to the media also."
Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav described it as a "dangerous order" and alleged that the government was moving on the path of dictatorship.
Yadav also said that the government has taken the step after its losses in the recently- concluded Assembly polls.
"I want to warn them that this order is in their hands only for four months and after that a new government would be here. So they should not dig holes for themselves," the SP leader added.
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'.
Meanwhile, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley sought to defend the move saying the Home Ministry order was only being repeated that existed in 2009 and referred to the "Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information Rules) 2009, under which it was issued.
"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," Jaitley told the Rajya Sabha.
The 2009 rules provide that an order of interception or monitoring of any computers can be issued only by the secretary of the MHA at the Centre and in case of "emergency" such an order can be issued by an officer not below the rank of joint Secretary to the Government of India.
The 2009 rules also provided that in case of "emergency" interception, monitoring and decryption of any information stored in any computer source may be carried out with prior approval of the head or the second senior most officer of the security and law enforcement agency at the central level.
The 2009 rules arm the government with powers of monitoring and intercepting any computer under Section 69 of The Information Technology Act, 2000.
The provision empowers to monitor and or intercept any computer source if the Central or the state government as the case may be is "satisfied that it is necessary or expedient to do in the 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 cognizable offence".