Government has given 10 investigating agencies sweeping powers to intercept, monitor and decrypt data in any computer.
An order released by the Ministry of Home Affairs on Thursday has set off a war of words between the government and the opposition. The order, which was signed by Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba, equips ten central investigating agencies with sweeping powers of “interception, monitoring and decryption of any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer”.
In the past, only the home ministry could scan emails and phone calls, but now the power is also vested in Intelligence Bureau, Narcotics Control Bureau, Enforcement Directorate, Central Board of Direct Taxes, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, CBI, National Investigation Agency, Cabinet Secretariat (Research and Analysis Wing), Directorate of Signal Intelligence (in Jammu and Kashmir, North-East and Assam only) and the Delhi Police Commissioner.
In addition, the rules pertained only to data in motion, but now extends to any data on computers. The agencies can also seize devices, while earlier IB could only collaborate with state police. Subscribers, service providers and persons in charge of the computer have to cooperate in every manner with the agencies, else they could face fine/imprisonment.
The authorisation comes under section 69 (1) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 which is invoked when necessary or expedient in the “interest of the sovereignty or integrity of India, defence of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence relating to above or for investigation of any offence”.
Opposition parties call the move “unconstitutional, undemocratic and an assault on fundamental rights”. Congress President Rahul Gandhi tweeted- “Converting India into a police state will not solve your problems Modi… it will prove what an insecure dictator you are.”
In response, BJP President Amit Shah countered that there were only two insecure dictators in India – Indira Gandhi (Emergency) and Rajiv Gandhi (postal interception bill).
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley sought to clarify, “On 20 December, same order of authorisation was repeated that was existing since 2009. You are making a mountain where a molehill does not exist.” He further added that while the right to intercept data was always there with some agencies, they still cannot access data unless it is a matter of national security. Also, the new rules were only derived from those framed by UPA in 2009.