New Delhi: Bringing the spotlight back on privacy laws, the Union home ministry has issued a blanket order allowing 10 government agencies to monitor and decrypt any information stored in any computer on grounds of internal security. With Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, paving the way for the act of “monitoring”, these agencies will now be able to snoop on exchange of information and material between individuals and banned or militant groups.
Government now has a lens on all your computers
“We have steadily tracked extensive Islamic State (IS) radicalization happening through material exchanged over emails. Initially these groups track youth on Facebook and other social media platforms, who can be potentially radicalized. Then they start exchanging literature over emails and start brainwashing the youth,” said a senior intelligence official with knowledge of the developments.
The order, which was issued on Thursday night, authorizes 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 (R&AW), Directorate of Signal Intelligence (for service areas of Jammu and Kashmir, North-East and Assam only) and the Commissioner of Police, Delhi, to track content “generated, received and stored” in any computer belonging to any individual or organization.
Giving the go-ahead under Section 69 (1) of the IT Act, 2000, the home ministry said that each case of interception, monitoring, decryption is to be approved by the Union home secretary and reviewed every two months by the cabinet secretary.
The home ministry’s order caused a political ruckus in the Rajya Sabha.
After Congress leader Anand Sharma accused the Centre of infringing the right to privacy, finance minister Arun Jaitley told the House that the home ministry had only repeated the order on surveillance, which had been in existence since 2009.
“On 20 December, same order of authorization was repeated that has been existing since 2009. You are making a mountain where a molehill does not exist,” Jaitley said.
Experts said that while the order was well within the ambit of the law, the particular section itself needed to be revisited keeping in mind privacy laws.
“Right to Privacy is a fundamental right. Section 69 (1) needs to be revisited. While the government has taken this step well within the parameters of the law, it is unprecedented to give 10 agencies authorization to monitor information,” said Pavan Duggal, cyber law expert at the Supreme Court.