Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Friday referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as an “insecure dictator” in his criticism of a government order authorising central agencies to monitor information stored on computers. Fellow party leader and former Union minister P Chidambaram said he had not studied the order, but monitoring computers amounted to creating an “Orwellian state”, ANI reported.
The order issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on Thursday authorised 10 central agencies to monitor, intercept, and decrypt “any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer”. Service providers, subscribers and those in charge of a computer resource will be bound to extend all technical assistance to the agencies, and failing to do so will lead to imprisonment. The order has led to severe criticism from several Opposition parties.
In a tweet, Rahul Gandhi 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.”
Rajya Sabha MP Anand Sharma claimed that the order was against the right to privacy, and accused the Centre of passing it by “stealth”, PTI reported. “This gives unlimited powers to all these agencies to monitor every information that interest them and complete surveillance which is unacceptable in democracy,” he said.
Ahmed Patel, also a Congress leader, said the order was “worrisome”. “The sweeping powers given to agencies to snoop phone calls and computers without any checks and balances is extremely worrisome,” he tweeted. “This is likely to be misused. “The government order giving a blanket approval to electronic surveillance is a direct assault on civil liberties and personal freedom of citizens.”
“Isn’t this dangerous?” Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted. “If it is for national security, then for that purpose, Central government already has the machinery. But why all commoners will be affected? Let us cherish the ‘idea of India’ for which our freedom fighters laid down their lives. Our people and our great institutions must strive to remain ‘independent’, in the true sense of the word.”
Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav alleged that the order is unconstitutional. “This government has only a few months left and it should not dig potholes for itself as a new government will be installed in the centre soon,” he said.
Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Manoj Jha said that the order should be a cause for concern not just for parliamentarians but for all Indians. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu said the government’s move was a direct assault on civil liberties of the people. “Sweeping powers [have been] given to central agencies to snoop phone calls and computers without any checks is extremely dangerous,” Naidu said on Twitter. “This step is a direct assault on civil liberties in general and fundamental right to privacy of citizens in particular, guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.”
Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury questioned why every one was “being treated like a criminal”. “This order by a govt wanting to snoop on every citizen is unconstitutional and in breach of the telephone tapping guidelines, the Privacy Judgement and the Aadhaar judgement,” he tweeted.
Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said that the only threat that the nation faces is from the Bharatiya Janata Party and its government, PTI reported. He said such a provision should be used only in selected regions with poor law and order situation.
“But, they have done it for the entire country, without specifying any region or district, or person,” Azad said. Are we all anti-nationals? Now all the 1.3 billion people are under suspicion and our telephones and computers will be checked. This is wrong.”
The Congress leader said that the BJP government talks about the nation being in danger whenever it feels it is going out of power.
Nationalist Congress Party spokesperson Nawab Malik said the move was “very dangerous” and a “breach of right to privacy”. He said no one would oppose if there were valid reasons to intercept someone’s computer. “But when you give blanket order, who are these agencies going to snoop on for?” he said. “The political situation is such that it [the government] is ordering agencies to play this game of detectives.”
“Since Modi government is known for snooping, question arises, is all this being done in the nation’s interest or personal and political interest?” Malik asked on Twitter.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen President Asaduddin Owaisi wondered if this is “what they meant when they said ‘ghar ghar Modi’ [Modi in every household]”.
According to the order, the agencies which can monitor computer data are the Intelligence Bureau, Narcotics Control Bureau, Enforcement Directorate, Central Board of Direct Taxes, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Central Bureau of Investigation, National Investigation Agency, Cabinet Secretariat (RAW), Directorate of Signal Intelligence (for service areas of Jammu and Kashmir, North East and Assam) and Commissioner of Police, Delhi.