- Arun Jaitley said certain agencies "always had" right to intercept data
- Mr Jaitley said authorisation was given under rules framed by UPA regime
- He said Congress made "a mountain where even a molehill does not exist"
After the opposition came down heavily on the government for empowering several investigating agencies to intercept and monitor data on computers, Union minister Arun Jaitley defended the move saying that the authorisation was given under rules framed during the UPA regime in 2009.
"Converting India into a police state isn't going to solve your problems, Modi Ji. It's only going to prove to over 1 billion Indians, what an insecure dictator you really are," Congress chief Rahul Gandhi tweeted.
After Congress leader Anand Sharma raised the issue in the Rajya Sabha today and accused the government of making the country a surveillance state, the Finance Minister hit back at his party for "playing with the security of the country" and making "a mountain where even a molehill does not exist".
"On December 20, the same order of authorisation was repeated that was existing since 2009," he said referring to the order of the Home Ministry that 10 central security and intelligence agencies can intercept, monitor and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource under the Information and Technology Act, 2000.
Earlier, only the home ministry could scan calls and emails of people. The new order gives that power to the Intelligence Bureau, Narcotics Control Bureau, Enforcement Directorate, Central Board of Direct Taxes, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, CBI, National Investigation Agency, Cabinet Secretariat (Research and Analysis Wing), Directorate of Signal Intelligence (in Jammu and Kashmir, North-East and Assam only) and the Delhi Police Commissioner.
Mr Jaitley said that certain agencies "always had" the right to intercept data. "The authorisation given to these agencies were brought to law under the UPA government in 2009. We cannot gain access to anybody's phone or data unless it is related to national security," said the senior minister.
When Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad pointed out that "nowhere in the order national security has been mentioned", Mr Jaitley said that "It (national security) is mentioned in section 69. And you are playing with the security of the country. That is what you have done just now."
The Congress has called the order "an ultimate assault on the fundamental rights and Right to Privacy".
But Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad clarified that the government is "only regularising interception" and assured that all privacy concerns will be addressed.
He added that the Home Secretary's approval will be required for any such interception.