New Delhi: Central government has authorized its 10 agencies to intercept and monitor information from any computer, a move opposition parties said on Friday risked creating a “surveillance state”.
The Union Home Ministry said late on Thursday the agencies could “intercept, monitor and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer” under an Information Technology Act.
“For the nation’s security, these agencies have been made accountable so that no one else can do these activities,” Ravi Shankar Prasad, minister for law and justice and information technology, told reporters on Friday.
The 10 agencies notified under the new order are the Intelligence Bureau, Narcotics Control Bureau, Enforcement Directorate, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (for Income Tax Department), Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Central Bureau of Investigation, National Investigation Agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, Directorate of Signal Intelligence (in service areas of J-K, North East and Assam) and Delhi Police commissioner.
They would need approval from the Union Home Secretary to carry out such surveillance.
But opposition parties led by the Congress party, which governed before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, said the government had introduced the powers “by stealth”, without a debate in parliament.
The government was attacking citizens’ right to privacy, they said.
“The BJP government is converting India into a surveillance state,” former federal minister and Congress leader Anand Sharma told reporters, flanked by politicians from many opposition parties.
“We collectively oppose it because this gives unlimited powers to all these agencies to monitor every information, to intercept and complete surveillance which is unacceptable in our democracy.”
The Supreme Court last year recognized the right to privacy as a fundamental right, and in September it reined in a government push to make a biometric identity system known as Aadhar mandatory for such things as banking and telecom services.
“The ministry has taken a regressive step by delegating powers to different agencies. This is dangerous because there is no independent oversight of the way interception is carried out,” lawyer and privacy activist Raman Chima told Reuters.