Agencies Can Snoop On Any Computer, Says Centre's Order, Triggering Alarm

As per the Ministry of Home Affairs order, not just calls or emails, but any data found on a computer can be intercepted. The agencies will also have powers to seize the devices

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Ten central agencies have been given the snooping powers by the home ministry. (Representational)


New Delhi: 

Highlights

  1. Home Ministry gives 10 central agencies sweeping powers
  2. Can now intercept, monitor data on any computer, not just emails, calls
  3. Includes Intelligence Bureau, anti-narcotics and tax agencies

Investigating agencies will have sweeping powers to intercept and monitor data on computers after a new home ministry order put out on Thursday. Ten central agencies have been equipped with powers of "interception, monitoring and decryption of any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer," in the order signed by Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba.

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.

"For the first time, powers of scanning data at rest have been given to various agencies. Earlier, only data in motion could be intercepted. But now data revived, stored and generated can also be intercepted as powers of seizure have been given," a senior bureaucrat explained to NDTV.

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The home ministry, in an order, gave powers to investigating agencies to intercept data on computers.

This means not just calls or emails, but any data found on a computer can be intercepted. The agencies will also have powers to seize the devices.

"IB (Intelligence Bureau) has no powers of seizure - they operate in collaboration with state police forces. Now it seems to have changed with the new notification," said the officer.

According to the notification, the subscriber or service provider or any person in charge of the computer resource is bound to extend all facilities and technical help to the agencies if they ask for data. If not, they can face seven years in jail and a fine.

The home ministry has authorised the agencies to intercept information under 69 (1) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 which says the central government can direct any agency after it is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient to do so in the "interest of the sovereignty or integrity of India, defence of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence relating to above or for investigation of any offence".

Earlier, the government had authorised agencies to tap phone calls but after permission from the Home Secretary. The order was last updated in 2011 and enables agencies to get into social media accounts and telephone intercepts.

Responding to criticism from opposition parties and on social media, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said: "On 20 December, same order of authorisation was repeated that was existing since 2009. You are making a mountain where a molehill does not exist." He said certain agencies "always had" the right to intercept data. "The authorization 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.

Opposition parties led by the Congress denounced the government's move as "unconstitutional, undemocratic and an assault on fundamental rights".

"From Modi Sarkar to stalker sarkar, clearly the string of losses has left the BJP government desperate for information," the Congress tweeted.

Left leader Sitaram Yechury posted: "Why is every Indian being treated like a criminal?"

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