MHA order sparks row

An order issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs authorising 10 security agencies to intercept, monitor and decrypt data contained in any computer system triggered a major controversy with the opposition voicing fears that the country is being turned into a “surveillance state” and the Narendra Modi government claiming that the rule has been in place since UPA era.

As per the order, the cyber and information security division of the MHA under Rajiv Gauba has empowered 10 agencies — Intelligence Bureau, Narcotics Control Bureau, Enforcement Directorate, the Central Board of Direct Taxes, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Central Bureau of Investigation, National Investigation Agency, Cabinet Secretariat (R&AW), Directorate of Signal Intelligence (in service areas of Jammu and Kashmir, Northeast and Assam) and Delhi Police — to intercept and analyse data locked in computers under the Information Technology Act.

The notification raised the hackles of the opposition, which created an uproar in the Parliament, saying that it was a brazen assault on the citizens’ fundamental right to privacy and an attempt to create an Orwellian state.

The Rajya Sabha was adjourned because of protests by the opposition leaders even as the MHA came out with a clarification that it had only re-released the existing order to make it clear that the 10 named agencies can alone access computer data while “no new powers have been conferred to any of the security or law enforcement agencies”.

It is to be noted that the MHA order is reminiscent of the social media monitoring exercise that was proposed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting a few months ago. The project was recently shelved by the government following similar protests from the Opposition and the intervention of the Supreme Court.

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