No general snooping order, Congress talks first, thinks later: Arun Jaitley

New Delhi:

“Congress Party talks first and thinks later. There is no general snooping order. The power to intercept in the interest of national security and public order already exists in law,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in reply to Congress Party’s allegation of Government trying to convert country into “Police state.”

The Government on Thursday issued an order authorizing 10 central agencies to intercept, monitor and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource under Information Technology Act.

Opposition has criticized the government heavily on this move and the matter was also raised in the Parliament. Congress President Rahul Gandhi accused the government of trying to convert country into “Police State” and even called Prime Minister Modi “insecure Dictator.”

 

BJP has hit back with hard reply. Arun Jaitely said that the “Congress Party is running since morning an ill-informed campaign that Govt. has allowed snooping on computers and is violating the Right of Privacy. The Congress Party has got into the habit of speaking out first and understanding the issue only subsequently.”

 

Jaitely said that the law existed for two decades and an interception or monitoring is only authorised under an specific approval of the Home Secretary, “The Information Technology Act has been in existence for almost two decades. Section 69 of the IT Act authorises in the interest of sovereignty, integrity etc. to direct a notified agency to intercept or monitor or decrypt an information stored in a computer resource.”

 

 

“There are safeguards, as prescribed by the Supreme Court, which are included in the rules. An interception or monitoring is only authorised under an specific approval of the Home Secretary,” Jaitely added.

“The rules required authorised agencies to be notified. In the absence of this authorisation, any police officer may start exercising the power,” Jaitely further said.

 

Jaitley added that former Home Minister P. Chidambaramdefended the same act during UPA II. “In fact, during UPA-II in a detailed debate in Parliament relating to a corporate lobbyist, the then Home Minister Shri P. Chidambaram strongly defended this power of interception being given to taxation authorities,” Jaitely said.

“The power existed and was used during the UPA Government also. How else will terrorists who use technology extensively be traced? Otherwise, the terrorists will use IT, but the intelligence and investigative agencies will be crippled,” Jaitley added.

 


BJP President Amit Shah accused Congress Party of engaging in fear mongering and playing politics with national Security. “Yet again Rahul does fear-mongering and plays politics with national security. UPA put no barriers on unlawful surveillance. When Modi govt puts safeguards for citizens, Rahul cries conspiracy,” said Shah.

 


“There were only 2 insecure dictators in the history of India. One imposed emergency and the other wanted unrestricted access to read letters of common citizens,” added Shah.

 


Government has issued a press release to clarify its order. Below are the details:

  • Rule 4 of the IT (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules 2009 provides that ‘the competent authority may authorise an agency of the Government to intercept, monitor or decrypt information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource for the purpose specified in sub-section (1) of Section 69 of the Act’.
  • The Statutory order (S.O.) dated 20.12.2018 has been issued in accordance with rules framed in year 2009 and in vogue since then.
  • No new powers have been conferred to any of the security or law enforcement agencies by the S.O. dated 20.12.2018.
  • Notification has been issued to notify the ISPs, TSPs, Intermediaries etc. to codify the existing orders.
  • Each case of interception, monitoring, decryption is to be approved by the competent authority i.e. Union Home secretary. These powers are also available to the competent authority in the State governments as per IT (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules 2009.
  • As per rule 22 of the IT (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules 2009, all such cases of interception or monitoring or decryption are to be placed before the review committee headed by Cabinet Secretary, which shall meet at least once in two months to review such cases. In case of State governments, such cases are reviewed by a committee headed by the Chief Secretary concerned.
  • O dated 20.12.2018 will help in following ways:
  1. To ensure that any interception, monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource is done as per due process of law.
  2. Notification about the agencies authorized to exercise these powers and preventing any unauthorized use of these powers by any agency, individual or intermediary.
  3. The above notification will ensure that provisions of law relating to lawful interception or monitoring of computer resource are followed and if any interception, monitoring or decryption is required for purposes specified in Section 69 of the IT Act, the same is done as per due process of law and approval of competent authority i.e. Union Home Secretary.

This notification does not confer any new powers. Adequate safeguards are provided in the IT Act 2000. Similar provisions and procedures already exist in the Telegraph Act along with identical safeguards. The present notification is analogous to the authorization issued under the Telegraph Act. The entire process is also subject to a robust review mechanism as in case of Telegraph Act. 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.

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