Officials at the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Monday reiterated that the Central government has not given “blanket power” to any agency to intercept information from any computer, and that these agencies have to strictly adhere to existing rules and stick to the book while carrying out such any action.
The iteration comes after the Supreme Court Monday sought a response from the government on a batch of petitions seeking a declaration that the recent government notification listing 10 central agencies that can “snoop” on people is a violation of the fundamental right to privacy.
“There is no new law, no new rules, no new procedure, no new agency, no blanket powers, no blanket authorisation. It is the same law, same rule, same procedure, and the same agencies,” an MHA official said. “There is no change even in a comma or a full stop in the existing rules and regulations.”
The MHA notification on December 20, 2018, which listed 10 agencies, had set off a political storm, with the Opposition accusing the government of trying to create a “surveillance state”.
The MHA official clarified that the 10 agencies mentioned in the notification were already empowered to intercept electronic communications since 2011. The official added that while listing these agencies on December 20 last year, the ministry had reiterated the standard operating procedures (SOP) of 2011 be maintained. The SOPs require approval of the competent authority — the Union Home Secretary or the State Home Secretary — for each such interception.
The Centre maintains that the rules for intercepting and monitoring computer data were framed in 2009, when the Congress-led UPA was in power, and its new order only notified the designated agencies which can carry out such action.
The Home Ministry official said, “The notification is nothing but a list sent to telecom service providers in order to ensure that only an authorised and designated agency can intercept communication, and (to ensure) there is no misuse by unauthorised agencies or unscrupulous service providers.”
According to the official, the number of interceptions has gone down since 2014, even though the number of mobile phone connections in the country has gone up and is now around 120 crore.
The 10 agencies listed in the government notification are the Intelligence Bureau, Narcotics Control Bureau, Enforcement Directorate, 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, the Northeast and Assam), and Delhi Police.