Centre defends snooping order in Supreme Court
The Union government has defended before the Supreme Court its controversial December 20 notification allowing 10 security agencies to intercept, monitor and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored on any computer in the country.
Back then, the government defended the order by saying it actually restricted such snooping to 10 agencies and only after due process was followed.
In an affidavit submitted before the court, the Union ministry of home affairs (MHA) reiterated that stand and said the notification in fact restricted unlawful and unauthorised surveillance and streamlined the procedure of interception under the Information Technology (IT) Act.
The notification has been challenged in the top court by several individuals and non-profit organisations working in the field of privacy rights.
They allege that the order is in violation of privacy laws as it gives sweeping powers to the agencies to snoop on people.
No sweeping powers have been accorded to the agencies to snoop on people, MHA clarified and justified the “legitimate” use of powers in national interest.
Lawful interception of data is necessary in the modern world where technology has taken a leap and data is stored and transferred in encrypted forms using several modern tools of information communication, the affidavit said.
“There is no blanket permission to any agency for interception or monitoring or decryption as the authorised agencies still require permission of the competent authority in each case as per due process of law and justification for interception,” read the affidavit.
The notification intends to confine lawful interception only to cases of “legitimate state interest,” it said.
Speedy collection of actionable intelligence, including signal intelligence, is imperative to counter threats such as terrorism, radicalisation, cyber crime, drug cartels, to national security, the affidavit added.
Such interception still requires prior approval of a competent authority, who is the Union home secretary, and cases shall be restricted strictly to the public purpose as sanctioned under the IT Act, ministry of home affairs told the court.
Outlining the procedure, the ministry said that cases of interception shall be placed before a review committee so that there is no improper use of powers. Permission to intercept information shall be given only when the information cannot be obtained by other tools and methods, it added.
Under the rules, intercepted records need to be destroyed every six months unless the data is meant for a functional requirement or in a court of law. MHA acknowledged that privacy is a very important right but the “veil of privacy can be lifted for legitimate state interest”.