‘Snooping’ row sets off political storm

‘Snooping’ row sets off political storm
NEW DELHI, DEC 21 | Publish Date: 12/21/2018 11:41:58 AM IST

Ten central agencies have been authorised by the Centre to intercept information from any computer, a move that set off a political storm Friday with the opposition accusing the government of trying to create a “surveillance state”.

But the Centre said the rules for intercepting and monitoring computer data were framed in 2009 when the Congress-led UPA was in power and its new order only notified the designated authority which can carry out such action.

The opposition parties led by the Congress slammed the order as unconstitutional, undemocratic and an assault on fundamental rights and an attempt by the BJP government to convert India into a “surveillance state” by resorting to “snooping”, inviting a sharp response from the ruling party.

In a strong defence of the government order, the BJP said it is legal with adequate safeguards and in the interest of national security, dubbing the opposition’s criticism as a “text book case” of speaking without any homework. The Centre also rejected the opposition’s charge of snooping. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi told Prime Minister Narendra Modi that converting India into “police state” won’t solve his problems and it only showed he is an ‘insecure dictator’.

MHA clarifies: As a controversy erupted, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued a statement, saying the order was issued to prevent “any unauthorised use of these powers”.

The new order “does not confer any new powers” to any security or law enforcement agency, the statement said, adding “each case” of computer interception, monitoring and decryption is “to be approved by the competent authority, which is the Union home secretary”. The 10 agencies notified under the new order are the Intelligence Bureau, Narcotics Control Bureau, Enforcement Directorate, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (for Income Tax Department), Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Central Bureau of Investigation, National Investigation Agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, Directorate of Signal Intelligence (in service areas of J-K, North East and Assam) and Delhi Police commissioner.

According to the order, the 10 central probe and snoop agencies are now empowered under the Information Technology (IT) Act for computer interception and analysis. The agencies, according to the order, have been authorised “for the purpose of interception, monitoring and decryption of any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource under the said Act (section 69 of the IT Act, 2000)”.

Issue rocks RS: The issue of notification also rocked the Rajya Sabha where Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad alleged that “undeclared Emergency has taken final shape” and “all federal agencies have been let loose”, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the authorisation was given under 2009 rules and dismissed opposition’s charge of snooping. Jaitley said the opposition was playing with national security and “making a mountain where even a molehill doesn’t exist”.

Congress leader Anand Sharma said the issue is serious as it is related to fundamental rights and “India will become a police state” with such “sweeping powers” to agencies to intercept information.

Responding to the charge, Jaitley said it would have been better if the Opposition had obtained all information before raising this issue. He told the House that the rules under which agencies will be authorised to intercept information were framed in 2009 when the Congress-led UPA was in power.

“So what you are doing Anand Sharma is making a mountain where even a molehill does not exist.

However, Azad retorted that there is no mention of national security in the order. “The BJP seems to think it has ownership rights over national security and it means nothing to us,” he said taking a swipe at the government.”

To this, Jaitley said, “These are elementary things. It is an authorisation order. The provisions of national security are written in Article 69.... You are playing with the security of the country...”

Outside Parliament, CPI-M chief Sitaram Yehcury said the order was unconstitutional. BJP government is converting India into a surveillance state through the order, Anand Sharma said with other opposition leaders by his side.

The opposition parties including CPI(M), SP, RJD and TMC, said they will collectively oppose the order.

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