A furore has been created over the recent order of Ministry of Home Affairs which has authorized 10 agencies to intercept information on anyone’s computer. A set of ornate words such as ‘police state’, ‘surveillance state’, ‘big brother syndrome’ etc., have been used by some politicians and sections of media which has essentially resulted in a scaremongering. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, politicians like Asaduddin Owaisi, Sitaram Yechury, Omar Abdullah have raised their voice against the Centre’s notification through their tweets. All of them are alleging that the Modi Government has initiated some kind of snooping and spying on common Indians. Even the Congress President Rahul Gandhi tweeted on the similar lines.
Below are some of the tweets and media headlines to show how a negative narrative has been built over this issue.
The Truth about Snooping and Spying
So, is government of the day is resorting to snooping and spying of Indians on a regular basis. If you go by some of the tweets and headlines, you may end up believing that government is snooping and spying every activity you do on your computer. But the missing context and the true picture can be summarized as below:
- The notification is about ‘national security’. Importantly, not just in India, but anywhere in the world, it is quite common for governments to intercept and monitor the electronic and other modes of communication whenever it involves ‘national security’.
- This notification does not confer any new powers to any agency. Adequate safeguards are provided in the IT Act 2000. Similar provisions and procedures already exist in the Telegraph Act along with safeguards.
- In no way, it exploits the common citizen of India.
- Law for monitoring and intercepting computers existed much before the Modi government. Now, the government with its notification has brought in the much-needed clarity as to which agencies can implement this particular law.
- Even here also, MHA has not delegated its powers to any law enforcement or security agency. Every individual case will continue to require prior approval of the Home Ministry or the state government.
- Moreover, the notification is a codification of the SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) issued by MHA on May 19, 2011, when P.Chidambaram was the Home Minister.
Contrary to the Allegation, this Notification Safeguards the Citizen’s Interest
The Ministry of Home Affairs order specifically mentions two laws, neither of them is framed during this government’s tenure.
One is the sub section (1) of section 69 of the Information Technology Act 2000 which gives the power to issue directions for interception or monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer, if it deemed necessary or expedient to do 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 cognizable offence.
Second one is Rule 4 of the IT (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules 2009 which provides that ‘the competent authority may authorise an agency of the Government to intercept, monitor or decrypt information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource for the purpose specified in sub-section (1) of Section 69 of the Act’.
The Statutory Order (S.O.) dated December 20, 2018, has been issued in accordance with the rules framed in the year 2009 and in vogue since then.
Since it has specified the 10 central agencies as seen in the order below, that prevents any unauthorised person from the law enforcement agencies to misuse the provision of the law. As one can see in the list, except in the case of militancy infested states like J&K, only the premier agencies, not all the local authorities can act under this law.
It is an irony that the people belonging to same political dispensation which has made the law are now criticising the notification, which in reality, is strengthening the law itself. Chief Ministers like Mamata Banerjee who had earlier forced the law enforcement agencies to arrest people over Facebook cartoons is now falsely crying about ‘police state’. The point to be noted here is that the present notification only strengthens the national interest as explained above.