As the Opposition accused the Centre of running a “police state” for authorising ten central agencies to intercept and monitor all data contained in any computer, the government Friday clarified that “no new powers” have been conferred to agencies and that the same rules were brought in by the UPA government in 2009.
The Centre also said that the new system will prevent unauthorised use and every individual case will continue to require the prior approval of the Home Ministry or concerned state government.
Clarifies 2009 order, specifies who can monitor
A similar order was issued in 2009 by the UPA government but the new authorisation issued Thursday specifies the ten agencies that can intercept information from any computer. Such cases will continue to require prior approval and will be reviewed by a committee under the Cabinet Secretary or a state’s chief secretary. And with several companies using servers outside the country, agencies will still have to send requests through mutual legal assistance agreements.
“Similar provisions and procedures already exist in The Telegraph Act along with identical safeguards. 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 case of The Telegraph Act,” said the Home Ministry in a statement.
Until now, officials said, “there were standard operating procedures (SOPs), the 2009 Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information Rules, which has now be made into a statutory provision”.
Clarifying its stand, the Home Ministry said, “No new powers have been conferred to any of the security or law enforcement agencies by the order issued on December 20, 2018. The notification has been issued to notify Internet Service providers (ISPs), Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) and intermediaries to codify the existing orders.”
Attacking the government a day after the Union Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba authorised the new order, the Opposition alleged that India was turning into a surveillance state. Congress president Rahul Gandhi in a tweet said, “Converting India into a police state isn’t going to solve your problems, Modi Ji. It’s only going to prove to over 1 billion Indians, what an insecure dictator you really are.”
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that the Congress “speaks without thinking”. “There is no general snooping order. The power to intercept in the interest of national security and public order already exists in law. This is only an order to specify the authorised agencies. It is only in cases mentioned in Section 69 of the IT Act. The power existed and was used during the UPA Government also,” he said.
Former home minister and Congress leader P Chidambaram said an “Orwellian state is around the corner”. “I don’t want to give (an) off the cuff answer, but anybody is going to monitor the computers, including yours. What is an Orwellian state? George Orwellian (state) is around the corner,” PTI quoted Chidambaram as saying.
According to the Home Ministry order issued Thursday, the ten agencies are the Intelligence Bureau, the Narcotics Control Bureau, the Enforcement Directorate, the Central Board of Direct Taxes, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, the CBI, the NIA, the Research and Analysis Wing, the Directorate of Signal Intelligence (in service areas of J&K, North East and Assam) and the Delhi Police Commissioner.
Explaining the safeguards in place, an official said, “As per Rule 22 of the IT Rules 2009, all cases of interception or monitoring or decryption are to be placed before the review committee headed by Cabinet Secretary, which shall meet at least once in two months to review such cases. In the case of state governments, such cases are reviewed by a committee headed by the Chief Secretary concerned.”
Asked about the need to authorise central agencies, the Home Ministry claimed that this will ensure any interception, monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource is done under due process of law and will prevent unauthorised use of these powers.