Press "Enter" to skip to content

Govt allows agencies to monitor computers, sparks privacy fears

The government and the Opposition on Friday sparred over a notification allowing 10 central agencies and Delhi police rights to snoop into anyone’s computer, with Congress president Rahul Gandhi raising the spectre of a “police state” and finance minister Arun Jaitley and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad clarifying that this was merely a repetition of rules passed during the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime in 2009.

Jaitley maintained in Rajya Sabha that “authorised agencies have right under the law to intercept any attempt to subvert national security, defence, public order or integrity of India” even as Congress president Rahul Gandhi seized the opportunity to target Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his tweet that 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.”

On Thursday, Union home secretary Rajiv Gauba issued a statutory order authorising 10 “security and intelligence” agencies to lawfully “intercept, monitor and decrypt” information through a “computer resource”. It became a latest bone of contention between the Opposition and the government.

BJP chief Amit Shah hit back at Gandhi. “Yet again Rahul does fear-mongering and plays politics with national security. UPA put no barriers on unlawful surveillance. When Modi govt puts safeguards for citizens, Rahul cries conspiracy,” he tweeted. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also emphasized that the order is legal and the Oppositions’ comments amounted to playing with national security.

Dismissing the Centre’s defence, the Congress on Friday demanded to know the reasons including what was the threat to the nation behind giving a “blanket authority” to Central agencies to snoop on all computers. Congress leader Jaiveer Shergill accused ministers of “lying” and asserted that the latest order was vastly different from the 2009 rules.

Later, in a blog, Jaitley argued that the section 69 of the Information Technology Act authorizes such interception or monitoring or decrypting an information stored in a computer resource.

“This provision is similar to the power contained in the Telegraph Act in relation to telephones. The UPA Government had laid down a detailed procedure for this in the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009. Rule 4 authorises the competent authority to name the agencies which can undertake this exercise,” he wrote.

Jaitley also added there are safeguards — an interception or monitoring is only authorised under a specific approval of the Home Secretary, for instance. “These rules have been framed in 2009 by the UPA Government. The rules required authorised agencies to be notified. In the absence of this authorisation, any police officer may start exercising the power. In fact, during UPA-II in a detailed debate in Parliament relating to a corporate lobbyist, the then Home Minister Shri P. Chidambaram strongly defended this power of interception being given to taxation authorities,” Jaitley said.

Refuting allegations that this is a snooping order, Jaitley also wondered, “How else will terrorists who use technology extensively be traced? Otherwise, the terrorists will use IT, but the intelligence and investigative agencies will be crippled.”

In the House, Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad raised the issue to allege that “undeclared Emergency has taken final shape” and “all federal agencies have been let loose”.

Apart from the Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) opposed the move.

CPIM politburo maintained that the track record of this government “in harassing and persecuting citizens who do not share the RSS/BJP viewpoint is there for everyone to see. Individuals have been picked up for social media posts which are seen as being inimical to their image.”

“If anybody is going to monitor the computer, including your computer, that is the Orwellian state. George Orwell is around the corner. It is condemnable,” said former home minister P Chidambaram.

First Published: Dec 21, 2018 23:42 IST

Source: HindustanTimes