The National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), the technical intelligence agency under National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval, will now have similar powers as the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW). The Union Home Ministry on May 15 issued a notification listing NTRO under the Intelligence Organisations (Restriction of Rights) Act, 1985 — a demand of the organisation for over a decade.
The act was first passed in Parliament in 1985 to regulate intelligence agencies, to ensure that intelligence personnel do not spill the beans and embarrass the government of the day, said officials. Sudhir Saxena, joint secretary, internal security, Home Ministry, said: “In the Schedule to the Intelligence Organisations (Restriction of Rights) Act, 1985, after serial number 3 and the entries relating thereto, the following shall be inserted namely: “The National Technical Research Organisation.”
The act prevents employees of a notified agency from forming unions/associations, bars them from communicating with the press or publishing a book or other document without permission of the head of the intelligence organisation.
A senior government official said the notification doesn’t give NTRO any interception powers but aims to “bring certain norms of conduct applicable to other intelligence agencies.”
The IB and the R&AW had earlier opposed the inclusion of any other organisation in the list of monitoring agencies under the Act, following which the Home Ministry declined to grant powers to NTRO to monitor phones. Set up after the 1999 Kargil conflict, NTRO has been making presentations and demanding that they shall be included on the list as they have the right to lawfully intercept and monitor communications externally. The NTRO engages services of technical experts on contract and the notification, according to officials, will restrict the contractual employees to ensure a safety net and restrictions available to other spy agencies.
“The Official Secrets Act is already applicable to NTRO employees, though many are from the private sector. We have restrictions about getting involved in political activities in the country, among other things, we only make external intrusions,” added an official. However, the act doesn’t define any restriction on operations, which leads to misuse by security agencies.