Updated: February 6, 2021 5:30:44 am
THE Centre Friday told the Delhi High Court that though the right to privacy has been held to be a “sacred fundamental right” and is being “respected” by the government, the “veil of privacy” can be lifted for certain “legitimate state interest”.
The government said lawful interception, monitoring or decryption of any messages or information stored in any computer resources is done by authorised agencies after due approval in each case by the competent authority.
The government was responding to a petition seeking permanent halting of the Centre’s surveillance projects — Centralized Monitoring System (CMS), Network Traffic Analysis (NETRA) and National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID). The petitioners have contended that these enable government authorities to intercept, store, analyse and retain telephone and internet communications data in bulk in violation of the fundamental right to privacy.
The PIL, filed by Centre for Public Interest Litigation and Software Freedom Law Center, seeks constitution of a permanent and independent oversight authority — judicial or parliamentary — for authorising and reviewing interception and monitoring orders or warrants issued under the Telegraph Act, 1885 and the IT Act, 2000.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioners, has argued that the three systems allow the government a 360 degree surveillance of all citizens, including judges.
The government Friday said the interest of sovereignty or integrity of India, defence of the country, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states or public order fall under “legitimate state interest”.
“The grave threats to the country from terrorism, radicalization, cross-border terrorism, cybercrime, organized crime, drug cartels cannot be understated or ignored and a strong and robust mechanism for timely and speedy collection of actionable intelligence including digital intelligence, is imperative to counter threats to the national security. This is undeniably legitimate State interest,” it said.
The government said there is no blanket permission to any agency for interception or monitoring or decryption. “Every proposal received from authorized law enforcement agencies for interception and monitoring, are scrutinized by the dedicated unit of the Ministry of Home Affairs with strict security and confidentiality before consideration by Central Government, for the approval as per the legal provisions,” the government reply stated.
It said existing safeguards of oversight by the high level committee chaired by the Cabinet Secretary at Central level and by the Chief Secretary at the state level are adequate.
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