The agencies conveyed their views to national security adviser Shivshankar Menon at a recent meeting at the prime minister’s office. With home secretary Anil Goswami backing the spooks, even arguing that “the very need for such a bill” should be reviewed, Menon has called for revisiting the provisions the agencies have objected to.
The Right to Privacy Bill 2013 lays down privacy principles and standards, and stipulates jail terms and fines for leak of sensitive personal data.
“If such a bill was to be considered, intelligence agencies should be exempted from its purview,” Goswami argued at the meeting.
The intelligence agencies also spoke about how the bill would “adversely affect or compromise” the functioning of many agencies and projects, such as the Central Monitoring System that is used to intercept phone calls and internet communication, and the National Intelligence Grid that would give law enforcement agencies access to information combat terror threats.
The proposed privacy law was initially conceptualised to address data privacy, particularly in the context of data handled by the Indian IT industry for foreign clients.
But the Department of Personnel and Training – that drew up the bill – expanded its scope to cover information collected by the government and interception by intelligence agencies.
Sunil Abraham of the Centre for Internet and Society, a Bangalore-headquartered advocacy group, said the security establishment’s attempts to scuttle the privacy law were a step back.
“Civil society isn’t against surveillance by security agencies. All that we ask for is due process and oversight,” Abraham said.