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2-min read

Govt Cites 'Anomaly' to Defend Spying Order, Intel Officer Explains How It Would Work

The government justified the move by saying that under unlike the Telegraph Act, which allowed agencies to tap phones of suspicious people, there was no such provision under the IT Act.

Arunima | CNN-News18Arunima24

Updated:December 21, 2018, 11:55 AM IST
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New Delhi: The Union Home Ministry's order authorising 10 agencies to “monitor, intercept and decrypt” data from any computer in the country has set off alarm bells. The ministry, however, insists that the order is just meant to set right an “anomaly” in the Information and Technology Act so agencies can access data of terrorists and those threatening the "security or sovereignty" of the country.

"This is a long-standing demand of the central agencies. For example, we had no legal backing under which we could seek social media data," an official from the ministry told CNN-News18.

The government justified the move by saying that under the Telegraph Act, there were provisions for agencies to tap phones of suspicious people, but no such provision was made under the IT Act.

Opposition leaders, including National Conference chief Omar Abdullah, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury and AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi took to Twitter to criticise the government order.

"Modi has used a simple Government Order to permit our national agencies to snoop on our communications. Who knew that this is what they meant when they said ‘ghar ghar Modi’. George Orwell’s Big Brother is here & welcome to 1984,” Owaisi tweeted.

Responding to the criticism, a senior official from the Intelligence Bureau said, "There will be two levels of oversight before such interception is done by agencies. Like phone-tapping, we will have to inform and seek permission from the Union home secretary. Home secretary's permission will also be reviewed by Cabinet Secretary. It is not that we are seeking to intercept each and every computer. We have to justify it under the ambit of national security.”

In a gazette notification issued on Thursday, the MHA said, "In exercise of the powers conferred by sub-section (1) of section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (21 of 2000) read with rule 4 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009, the Competent Authority hereby authorises the following Security and Intelligence Agencies for the purposes of interception, monitoring and decryption of any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource under the said Act."

The agencies authorised under the order are 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 & Kashmir, North-East and Assam only) and Commissioner of Police, Delhi.

The ministry, however, is silent on why the permission is limited to central agencies. Terrorism-related probes are also done by state anti-terrorism squads, but the gazette notification does not give any state police force, except the Delhi Police, the power to intercept data.

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| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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