The Ministry of Home Affairs on Friday clarified that it had not conferred any new powers on any central security or law enforcement agency through its notification on the monitoring of data in computers. The notification issued on Thursday was in accordance with rules framed in 2009, the ministry said after severe criticism of the order enabling 10 agencies to monitor, intercept and decrypt “any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer”.
The ministry cited Rule 4 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules 2009, which says that a competent authority may authorise a governmental agency to intercept, monitor or decrypt information in any computer.
Every individual case will continue to require prior approval of the Union home secretary or the state government, the ministry said in a statement. “The MHA has not delegated its powers to any law enforcement or security agency,” it added.
According to the order, the service provider, subscriber or person in charge of a computer resource will be bound to extend all technical assistance to the agencies – failing to do so will lead to imprisonment extending up to seven years and a fine. The agencies mentioned in the order 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.
In its clarification on Friday, the ministry said: “As per rule 22 of the IT [Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information] Rules 2009, all such cases of interception or monitoring or decryption are to be placed before the review committee headed by Cabinet Secretary, which shall meet at least once in two months to review such cases. In case of state governments, such cases are reviewed by a committee headed by the Chief Secretary concerned.”
The ministry said the new notification will help only authorised agencies to exercise these powers and ensure that due process of law is followed. “Similar provisions and procedures already exist in the Telegraph Act along with identical safeguards,” it added.
Opposition parties on Friday criticised the Centre following Thursday’s notification. Congress President Rahul Gandhi said the order would prove that Narendra Modi was an “insecure dictator”, and former Union minister P Chidambaram said it would destroy the structure of a free society and monitoring computers amounted to creating an “Orwellian state”. Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury questioned why every one was “being treated like a criminal”.
In the Rajya Sabha on Friday, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the Opposition was making a mountain out of a “molehill that does not exist”. He said the Congress was crying foul over powers it had created when the United Progressive Alliance was in government. “The authorisation given to these agencies were brought to law under the UPA government in 2009,” Jaitley said. “We cannot gain access to anybody’s phone or data unless it is related to national security.”
“When senior members from Opposition raise an issue, every word spoken by them has precious value and therefore they must know facts,” Jaitley told the House.
Meanwhile, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the order has been issued in the interest of national security. “It has been done under the law made by the Manmohan Singh government in 2009,” Prasad told ANI. “Each case of interception and decision is to be approved by the Union home secretary.”