Govt says MHA order on computer surveillance is only a restatement
21 December 2018
Amidst opposition attack over a government notification on Friday on monitoring and interception of computers by central investigative and security agencies, the government today said the notification did not assume any new powers and that the notification was ''done in the interest of national security.''
Allaying opposition's concerns over the home ministry's order giving snooping powers to the central agencies, finance minister Arun Jaitley said that the MHA order was a mere repetition of an order of authorisation issued under rules framed during the Congress-led UPA regime in 2009.
Jaitley made these remarks while intervening in the Rajya Sabha amidst vociferous protests and slogan shouting by the Opposition members on the issue on Friday.
The notification from the home ministry authorises 10 central agencies such as the Intelligence Bureau, Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate to intercept, monitor, and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer.
According to a home ministry release, “Rule 4 of the IT (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules 2009 provides that ‘the competent authority may authorise an agency of the government to intercept, monitor or decrypt information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource for the purpose specified in sub-section (1) of Section 69 of the Act.”
The statutory order issued on 20 December is in accordance with rules framed in year 2009 and in vogue since then, a release by the ministry of home affairs pointed out, adding that no new powers have been conferred to any of the security or law enforcement agencies by the latest order.
The release further stated that the notification has been issued to notify the ISPs, TSPs, intermediaries etc to codify the existing orders.
Each case of interception, monitoring, decryption is to be approved by the competent authority, ie, union home secretary. These powers are also available to the competent authority in the state governments as per IT (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules 2009, says the release.
The ministry also clarified that as per rule 22 of the IT (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules 2009, all such cases of interception or monitoring or decryption are to be placed before the review committee headed by cabinet secretary, which shall meet at least once in two months to review such cases. In case of state governments, such cases are reviewed by a committee headed by the chief secretary concerned.
To ensure that any interception, monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource is done as per due process of law, the ministry stated, adding that it also ensures that authorised exercise of these powers are prevented by any agency, individual or intermediary.
The present notification is analogous to the authorisation issued under the Telegraph Act. The entire process is also subject to a robust review mechanism as in case of Telegraph Act. Every individual case will continue to require prior approval of the home ministry or state government. MHA has not delegated its powers to any law enforcement or security agency, the release stated.