What was a theoretical possibility became a reality on Friday as the government authorised 10 central agencies, including the Intelligence Bureau, the Narcotics Control Bureau, the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation to intercept, monitor and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer in the country.

No sooner was it notified it became a political debate with the Opposition alleging that the government was trying to create a ‘surveillance state’. 

Reacting to the notification, Congress President Rahul Gandhi said, “Converting India into a police state isn’t going to solve your problems, Modi Ji. It’s only going to prove to over one billion Indians what an insecure dictator you really are.”

Govt defends the move

Defending the decision, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in the Rajya Sabha that “these are elementary things. It is an authorisation order. The provisions of national security are written in Article 69....You (Opposition) are playing with the security of the country. That is what you have done just now.” 

Further clarifying Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said: ‘This notification does not confer any new powers. Adequate safeguards are provided in the IT Act 2000. Similar provisions and procedures already existed in the Telegraph Act along with identical safeguards.” 

The present notification is analogous to the authorisation issued under the Telegraph Act, it said, adding that the entire process is also subject to a ‘robust review mechanism as in the case of Telegraph Act’. It also clarified later in the evening that “Every individual case will continue to require prior approval of Home Ministry or State government. MHA has not delegated its powers to any law enforcement or security agency.”

However, some within the government believed that it was taking an extreme step before getting into a ‘real action’ against all the social media players as many of the unwanted incidents happen because of such mediums. 

It is noted that many recruitments in spying agencies and terrorist groups also happen through these social media platforms. 

Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Electronics and IT as well as Law & Justice, told some reporters abouts attempts of Inter Service Intelligence, the Pakistani spy agency, to spread radical Islam in India and terrorist group Islamic State trying to recruit gullible Indians using internet, and stressed on the need to stop them.

Responding to Opposition’s allegations, he said that the IT Act, which has provisions for such an interception, was brought by the Congress-led UPA dispensation, and the latest order has only made it more accountable by naming designated agencies that which can carry out such an interception.

“The UPA had enacted the law. We have made it accountable…The Congress should answer as to whether terrorism is a threat to the country or not,” Prasad asked.

Privacy concerns

On privacy concerns, he said that government will protect privacy, but there can be no compromise with national security. The decision to intercept anybody’s computer can be invoked only in matters of national integrity and security, public order and friendly relations with other countries.

According to experts also, the notification on Friday is different from the earlier notification of 2009 because the permission of snooping is now defined – only through Home Secretary or the State Home Secretary. However, experts also said that Military Intelligence’s is part of the list and the MHA should have added them under the Act.