Centre authorises 10 investigating agencies to snoop on any computer

The agencies thus empowered include Central Board of Direct Taxes, RAW, and the Intelligence Bureau.

Hyderabad: In a late-night order on Thursday that has stunned citizens the Central Government has empowered 10 Central agencies to intercept and monitor online content, including calls and data of individuals.

The government has also authorised the agencies to decrypt data contained in any computer system. The agencies thus empowered include Central Board of Direct Taxes, RAW, and the Intelligence Bureau.

The order runs contrary to the judgement on data privacy delivered recently by the Supreme Court because it does not require reasons to carry out the surveillance.

Though surveillance was allowed earlier too. However, in each case, the agencies were required to secure permission from the court and government to tap personal content and the level of officer allowed to do so was stipulated.

The new order was issued by the Cyber and Information Security division of the Ministry of Home Affairs late on the night of December 20.

Earlier, only the home ministry could scan calls and emails of people. With this new order, not just calls and emails, but these 10 agencies can now also monitor any data found on a computer with the permission of the home secretary.

“The 10 agencies have the powers of interception, monitoring and decryption of any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer,” said home secretary Rajiv Gauba in the order.

Importantly, the agencies will also have powers to seize the devices, in the name of national security. And if the service provider or any person in charge of the computer resource refuses to reveal information to these agencies, they can face seven years in jail and a fine.

AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi called it an act against right to privacy which is a fundamental right of every citizen “This is what the government meant when they said ‘ghar ghar Modi’,” he Twitted.

Mr Owaisi told this newspaper, “Why should the government snoop on computers of common citizens, most importantly why are they (citizens) being suspected? In the US, UK, France, or Germany, the investigating agencies get an order from the judiciary for phone tapping or snooping. In India, it is the executive which decides.” All intelligence agencies abroad are governed by Acts of Parliament and there are safety mechanisms built into their laws to safeguard the privacy of citizens. In the UK, two Acts give legitimacy to its intelligence agencies, Mr Owaisi said.

“These also established that all forms of phone tapping and espionage activities will be reviewed by groups of MPs chosen by the British Prime Minister. In the US, the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act regulates espionage activities along with a joint Senate committee on intelligence. This sort of surveillance (as in the order) is not good as there is no oversight over these agencies,” he added.

The order does not specify the reason for empowering agencies to snoop.

“By not reasoning out, the order violates the right to data privacy judgment, it is unconstitutional. It contradicts Section 69 (1) of the IT Act, which clearly states that one has to follow the due process of law before intercepting private data,” said Supreme Court lawyer Chiranshul Sinha. “This order has instead made the job of snooping easy. Investigating agencies no longer will need judicial approval to snoop. All the boundaries of agencies to intrude into private data have been broken. However, the common man can challenge the move in the High Court under Article 226 and Article 32 of the constitution in the Supreme Court,” said Mr Sinha.

The directive also contradicts the SC judgement on Aadhaar and the Srikrishna Committee report on Data Protection and turns the clock back on the privacy framework and the rights of Indian citizens.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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