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SC issues notice to the Centre for order that allows monitoring of all computers

The Supreme Court has issued a notice to the Centre over its December 20th, 2018 order where the Ministry of Home Affairs allowed 10 agencies to monitor, intercept and collect data from all computers, under Section 69 of the Information and Technology Act, reports Hindustan Times.

The SC has given six weeks’ time to the Centre to respond to the notice. The Court has, however, not stayed the Centre’s order. The contents of the SC’s current notice are unavailable at the moment.

Case status from the Supreme Court’s website

The petition was filed by Shreya Singhal along with a string of petitions by Manohar Lal Sharma, Amit Sahni and Trinamool Congress MLA Mahua Moitra. Singhal, in her petition, listed the Union of India, Cyber and Information Security division, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and Ministry of Law as respondents in the matter seeking a stay on the order.

The court, while hearing the plea, said “In view of 69, the power does exist. 69 was introduced in 2009 and subsequently amended. What have you been doing since then?” It noted a “serious infringement of privacy” and said that some guidelines have to be read into the notification, issued by the Centre.

Case status from the Supreme Court’s website

All computers under surveillance

Earlier on December 21st, 2018, 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 a clarification saying that the order had 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. However, NDTV, in it’s report said that earlier, only the home ministry could scan calls and emails of people but with the new directive, the power of scanning, interception and monitoring rests with the ten listed agencies. 

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