The Delhi High Court on Wednesday asked the Centre to respond to a plea claiming the government was carrying out a “360 degree surveillance” of all its citizens, including the judges, through projects like the Centralised Monitoring System, the Network Traffic Analysis (NETRA), and the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), Bar and Bench reported.
The petition, filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, and Software Freedom Law Centre through advocate Prashant Bhushan, sought that the Centre completely halt these surveillance projects. It said the systems enable authorities to intercept, store, analyse and retain telephone and internet data in bulk, which was an infringement of the fundamental right to privacy of individuals, according to The Indian Express.
“We are entering into a regime which is called surveillance state where the government is effectively viewing everything that every individual sees through the internet,” Bhushan told the court .“All internet traffic, all emails, communications sent through the internet can be seen by the government.”
Furthermore, the petition argued that the surveillance system exceeds the constitutional restrictions, principles and adequate safeguards laid down by the Supreme Court in the KS Puttaswamy vs Union of India case of 2017.
In the Justice KS Puttaswamy vs Union of India case, a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court passed a landmark judgement, affirming that the right to privacy is protected as a fundamental constitutional right under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution. These fundamental rights cannot be given or taken away by law, and all laws and executive actions must abide by them, the court had said.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Bhushan referred to the judgement and argued that the government was not entitled to know the personal details about a citizen unless it is legally authorised to do so, there is a specific objective behind it, or when it satisfies the principles of proportionality.
“This is an alarming state of affairs. The three systems destroy everything said by the Supreme Court in Puttaswamy and PUCL,” Bhushan submitted.
The advocate said the Central Monitoring System was effectively like National Security Agency’s PRISM system, which was exposed by Edward Snowden, according to The Indian Express. The National intelligence Grid (NATGRID), on the other hand, allows agencies to get information from banks regarding account details and other transactions made by citizens, including travel plans, he added.
Bhushan also cited information received through the Right to Information Act, saying that the government authorities are obtaining about 7,500 to 9,000 permissions every month for tapping telephones and intercepting telephones, while the Review Committee sits once every two months.
Based on the submissions, a bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan issued notice to the ministries of home affairs, information technology, communications, defence and law and justice for their stand on the plea, according to the Hindustan Times. The matter would be now heard on January 7.