The central government defended in the Supreme Court an earlier notification enabling 10 agencies to monitor, intercept and decrypt “any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer”, The Hindu reported.

In an affidavit submitted before the top court on Friday, the Ministry of Home Affairs said the notification was a measure to protect citizens’ privacy. The government was responding to a petition filed by advocate ML Sharma challenging the December 20 notification as a violation of the fundamental right to privacy. In January, the Supreme Court had issued a notice to the Centre and ordered it to respond within six weeks.

According to the order, 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. After the order had led to severe criticism from several Opposition parties, the Centre clarified it had not conferred any new powers on any central security or law enforcement agency. The notification was in accordance with rules framed in 2009 under the United Progressive Alliance government, the ministry had then said.

The Centre on Friday argued that the order to monitor computers was in national interest. “Surveillance is done only in the defence of India, to maintain public order, etc.,” said the affidavit, adding that the country faced grave threats from terrorism, radicalisation, cross-border terrorism, cyber crime and drug cartels. There is a need for “speedy collection of actionable intelligence” to counter threat to national interests, it added.

The affidavit said that the order provided surveillance powers to only 10 central agencies. “What has been done under the December 20 order is in fact restricting the exercise of powers, removing a possible vagueness and specifying the agencies/organisations who only would have the powers to utilise the powers of section 69 of the [Information Technology] Act,” it said.

The affidavit stated that the purpose of the order was to ensure that surveillance is carried out as per law, and that any interception, monitoring, decryption of computer resources is done by authorised agencies and with approval of the competent authority. The Centre argued that the order would prevent unauthorised use of surveillance powers by any agency, individual or intermediary, and would not violate the right to privacy of citizens.