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Cyber Surveillance Order

Cyber Surveillance Order

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Why in news ? :

  • The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has issued an order authorising ten security and intelligence agencies of the country to access any information stored in any computer for the purpose of monitoring, decrypting and interception.

Who are these agencies?

  • According to the order, 10 central probe and snoop agencies are now empowered under the Information Technology Act, 2000, for computer interception and analysis
  • The 10 agencies include 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 (RAW), Directorate of Signal Intelligence (For service areas of Jammu & Kashmir, North-East and Assam only), and Commissioner of Police, Delhi.

Highlights of the Order:

  • The ministry has vested the authority on the agencies under Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and Rule 4 of the Information Technology Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009.
  • The order mandates for a subscriber or service provider or any person in charge of the computer resource to extend technical assistance to the agencies.
  • Non-compliance will invite seven-year imprisonment and fine.

Reasons for surveillance : 

  • “ In the interest of sovereignty or integrity of India, defence of India, security of State, friendly relations with foreign States, or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above or for investigation of any offence ”.

Background :

  • Section 5 of the Indian telegraph Act, 1885 gives the central government and the state government the freedom to monitor private conversations in the occurrence of any “public emergency” or in the interest of “public safety”, and if it is considered necessary or expedient to do so, in addition to the following instances: in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India; the security of the State; friendly relations with foreign states; public order; and for the prevention of incitement to the commission of an offense.
  • Section 69 of the information technology act, 2000 empowers the Controller of Certifying authority to direct a subscriber to extend facilities to decrypt information stored or transmitted through any computer resource. The conditions for interception are much in the lines of Section 5 of The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, but the IT Act does not contain the overarching condition that interception can only occur in the case of public emergency or in the interest of public safety as mentioned in the Telegraph Act.
  • In 2008, Government amends Section 69 of the IT Act 2000 expanding its power to order interception for “investigation of any offence”.
  • In 2009, Government of India announces its plan to establish Central Monitoring System (CMS), a wide-ranging surveillance programme that will give its security agencies and even income tax officials the ability to tap directly into e-mails and phone calls without oversight by courts or parliament.

Mains bits : Concerns raised:

  • Only data in motion could be intercepted earlier. But now data revived, stored and generated can also be intercepted as powers of seizure have been given. 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. The sweeping powers given to agencies to snoop phone calls and computers without any checks and balances is extremely worrisome. This is likely to be misused.