Advocate Manohar Lal Sharma on Monday filed a petition in the Supreme Court to challenge the Centre’s notification authorising 10 central agencies to monitor, intercept, and decrypt “any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer”, PTI reported. However, the court denied an early hearing of the petition, according to ANI.
Sharma’s plea sought the quashing of the notification. The petition said the notification was issued “to find political opponent, thinker and speaker to control entire country under dictatorship to win coming general election under an undisclosed emergency as well as slavery which cannot be permitted within the Constitution of India”. It added that the “blanket surveillance order must be tested against fundamental right to privacy”.
The plea came days after the Supreme Court fined Sharma Rs 50,000 for filing “frivolous” petitions. Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had told him: “Mr Sharma, the day has come to ban you from filing PILs.”
Advocate Amit Sahni also filed a separate petition seeking the dismissal of the government’s notification, calling it “undemocratic and an assault on fundamental rights of the citizens of India”. The government cannot suspect every citizen to be a criminal, Sahni contended, adding that the order’s aim was to create a “surveillance country”.
Sahni alleged that the government intended to snoop on every citizen, a move which was highly unjustified and contrary to the Constitution and the law laid down by the Supreme Court.
According to the order issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on Thursday, service providers, subscribers or those 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, which may extend to seven years, and a fine.
After facing criticism from the Opposition for the order, the government had on Friday clarified that it had not conferred any new powers on any central security or law enforcement agency through the notification. The notification was in accordance with rules framed in 2009, the ministry said.
The ministry had 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.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi had 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 had questioned why every one was “being treated like a criminal”.