Ten government agencies in India have been given the legal authority to 'intercept, monitor or decrypt information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer', sparking concerns from citizens and privacy advocates over surveillance.
The order was approved on 20 December by the Ministry of Home Affairs and is an expansion of India's IT Act of 2000, It effectively gives the Indian government the legal power to monitor all its citizens' Internet traffic, and the authority to request access to any encrypted information, reported ZDNet.
The ten agencies to which the order applies are the:
- 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 (R&AW)
- Commissioner of Delhi Police, and
- Directorate of Signal Intelligence (for service areas of Jammu & Kashmir, North-East, and Assam only)
Individuals and entities who do not comply with the requests from these agencies for data access face up to seven years in prison or a fine.
While some citizens, privacy advocates and opposition parties have decried the order, with the Congress saying it turns India into a ‘surveillance state’, government officials argue that this move is needed for national security, to maintain public order, and to deal with foreign government interventions.
To address some of the concerns, the Ministry of Home Affairs subsequently issued a clarification explaining that any interception, monitoring, or data decryption will be "done as per due process of law" with approval from the Union Home Secretary.
The ministry also said that adequate safeguards against abuse exist under both the IT and Telegraph Acts.
The government said that every individual case will continue to require prior approval of Home ministry or state government and the ministry had not delegated its powers to any law enforcement or security agency.
The order is expected to be challenged in court as unconstitutional, said the ZDNet report.