Government’s surveillance order key to national security: MHA officials

A recent Union government order authorising 10 central agencies to access “any information” on computers within the country is crucial for national security and there are adequate safeguards against its misuse, officials in the Ministry of Home Affairs said, citing statements made by former minister P Chidambaram to Parliament and similar legislation in western countries.

The claims come at a time when the opposition has accused the government of trying to create a “police state” by issuing the December 20 order, which was also challenged in the Supreme Court earlier this week for being “illegal, unconstitutional and ultra vires to the law”.

“A needless controversy has been generated… Actually, the government order will ensure prevention of unauthorised interception or monitoring by agencies not mentioned in the order or by unscrupulous ISPs,” an official of the ministry said.

The order must be seen in the context of Section 69 of the IT Act, which sets out specific reasons under which interception can be approved, the official added. “Each case of monitoring or interception requires prior approval of home secretary and approval can be given only for purposes mentioned in Section 69”. Cases that could threaten sovereignty and integrity of India, public order, diplomatic relations or investigation of any offence are among those that can warrant interception or monitoring of communication.

Recently, Union home secretary Rajiv Gauba issued a statutory order authorising 10 “security and intelligence” agencies to lawfully “intercept, monitor and decrypt” information through a “computer resource”. The agencies included the Intelligence Bureau, Enforcement Directorate, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (for IT Department), Central Bureau of Investigation, National Investigation Agency, the Research and Analysis Wing and Delhi Police Commissioner.