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AITC argues for right to privacy, calls for withdrawal of surveillance circular

Sukhendu Sekhar Ray, Member of Parliament from All India Trinamool Congress, has raised the issue of violation of privacy with respect to the circular and demanded its withdrawal, weeks after the Home Ministry of India notified that 10 central security and investigation agencies could intercept, monitor and decrypt, “any information on any computer.”

The issue was raised in the Parliament during the ongoing winter session.

Ray said

  • 100 years after the movement against the Rowlatt Act, the Central Government is following the footsteps of British rulers with the introduction of the circular. (The Rowlatt Act let the government try some political cases without juries, and permitted internment of suspects without trial.)
  • Refuting the government argument that the provision was already present under the Information and Technology Act, 2000, Ray said, “at that point of time there was no Supreme Court judgement that Right to Privacy is a Fundamental Right.”

He raised the issue of the twin test of necessity and proportionality that the Supreme Court had established in its judgement on the Right to Privacy and Aadhaar and said, that the “circular fails on these counts.”

  • He called the decision of blanket surveillance by the government unconstitutional.
  • It poses a threat to the right to privacy and that the “welfare state will be turned into a police or a surveillance state.”
  • However, he added that in specific case with specific checks and balances, “government should resort to it.”

Putting all computers under surveillance

Earlier last month, the Ministry of Home Affairs had notified the following agencies with the power to monitor all computers:

  • Intelligence Bureau
  • Narcotics Control Bureau
  • Enforcement Directorate
  • Central Board of Direct Taxes
  • Directorate of Revenue Intelligence
  • Central Bureau of Investigation
  • National Investigation Agency
  • Cabinet Secretariat (RAW)
  • Directorate of Signal Intelligence (for service areas of Jammu & Kashmir, North-East and Assam only);
  • Commissioner of Police, Delhi

The government did so by exercising the powers under 69(1) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 according to which,

The central or state government and its officer can surveil any computer if it is necessary or expedient “in the interest of sovereignty or integrity of India, defence of India, security of State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above…”

The government later issued the clarification saying that the it has been issued in accordance with rules frames in 2009, under the IT Act and that no new powers have been conferred on any security or law enforcement agencies since then.

Also read: The Indian government puts all computers under surveillance

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