The Opposition on Friday attacked the BJP-led government over a Home Ministry order that allowed 10 central intelligence and investigating agencies and the Delhi Police to intercept, monitor and decrypt "any information" generated, transmitted, received or stored in "any computer", even as the Centre defended the move saying it was a mere repetition of an order framed during the UPA regime in 2009.
"Through this order the BJP government is converting India into a surveillance state. It is an ultimate assault on the fundamental rights and Rights to Privacy," Congress leader Anand Sharma told reporters outside Parliament, adding that the move is in direct conflict with the Supreme Court judgement that "right to privacy is a fundamental right".
"The government has done it by strength we collectively oppose it. This gives unlimited powers to all these agencies to monitor every information," he added.
Defending the move in the Parliament, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley intervened in the Rajya Sabha amidst protests and slogan shouting by opposition members on the issue and accused the Congress of playing with the security of the country and making "a mountain where even a molehill does not exist."
"And what you are doing, Anand Sharma, is making a mountain where even a molehill does not exist," said Jaitley to Sharma while responding to his allegations.
Jaitley said the NDA government has used the same rules which were made by the UPA government in 2009 for agencies concerning issues of national security.
To this Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said that he has a copy of the order of the Ministry of Home Affairs and added "nowhere in the order national security has been mentioned".
Jaitley replied that "It (national security) is mentioned in section 69. And you are playing with the security of the country. That is what you have done just now."
What is the order?
According to the order that was passed late Thursday, the government authorised 10 central probe and snoop agencies under the Information Technology Act for the purposes of interception, monitoring and decryption of any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource under.
The ten agancies include the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Enforcement Directorate (ED), the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), National Investigation Agency (NIA), the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), Directorate of Signal Intelligence (in service areas of J&K, North East and Assam) and Delhi Police, are now empowered under the Information Technology Act for computer interception and analysis.
However, the minister's response seems to have done little to pacify the Opposition members across parties, who launched an attack on the government over the issue.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala also took to Twitter and attacked the government.
"This time, attack on privacy. Modi government mocks and flouts Fundamental 'Right to Privacy' with brazen impunity! Having lost elections, now wants to scan/snoop your computers? 'Big Brother Syndrome' is truly embedded in NDA's DNA!," Surjewala said.
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Modi Govt mocks & flouts Fundamental ‘Right to Privacy’ with brazen impunity!
Having lost elections,now Modi Govt wants to scan/snoop YOUR computers?
‘Big Brother Syndrome’ is truly embedded in NDA’s DNA!
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Senior Congress leader and former Home Minister P. Chidambaram said if anybody is going to monitor computers, then it is an Orwellian state.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also took to Twitter to attack the Centre's order.
I have come to know that Union Home Ministry has issued an order yesterday authorising 10 Central Agencies to carry out interception, monitoring and decryption of any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource 1/2— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) December 21, 2018
"I have come to know that Union Home Ministry has issued an order yesterday authorising 10 Central Agencies to carry out interception, monitoring and decryption of any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource.
If it is for National Security, then only for that purpose Central Government already has the machinery. But, why all commoners will be affected? Public Opinion please... Blanket surveillance is bad in law," she said.
Communist Party on India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury also criticised the government for treating every citizen like a criminal and described the order as unconstitutional.
"Why is every Indian being treated like a criminal? This order by a government wanting to snoop on every citizen is unconstitutional and in breach of the telephone tapping guidelines, the privacy Judgement and the Aadhaar judgement," Yechury tweeted.
Why is every Indian being treated like a criminal? This order by a govt wanting to snoop on every citizen is unconstitutional and in breach of the telephone tapping guidelines, the Privacy Judgement and the Aadhaar judgement. https://t.co/vJXs6aycP0— Sitaram Yechury (@SitaramYechury) December 21, 2018
Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel said, "The sweeping powers given to agencies to snoop phone calls and computers without any checks and balances is extremely worrisome. This is likely to be misused."
"The Government order giving a blanket approval to electronic surveillance is a direct assault on civil liberties and personal freedom of citizens," Patel added.
Former Jammu and Kashmri Chief Minister Omar Abdullah joined the debate, and wrote on micro blogging site Twitter, saying "Given that the government has now authorised multiple agencies to snoop on the personal & official computers of the Hon’ble judges of the Supreme Court I hope the SC takes a long hard look at the legality of the order."
Given that the government has now authorised multiple agencies to snoop on the personal & official computers of the Hon’ble judges of the Supreme Court I hope the SC takes a long hard look at the legality of the order. #surveillancestate #emergency2pointzero.— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) December 21, 2018
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Manoj Jha said, "We have seen their modus-operandi through whatever we learnt from the corridors of te CBI. This goes on to confirm that we are living in an Orwellian state. It is a challenge and dangerous to the media also."
Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav described it as a "dangerous order" and alleged that the government was moving on the path of dictatorship.
"The decision is very dangerous and the government has started to move on the path of dictatorship," he said.
Yadav also said that the government has taken the step after its losses in the recently- concluded Assembly polls.
"I want to warn them that this order is in their hands only for four months and after that a new government would be here. So they should not dig holes for themselves," the SP leader added.
AIMIM and Lok Sabha member, Asaduddin Owaisi, said: "Modi has used a simple government order to permit our national agencies to snoop on our communications. Who knew that this is what they meant when they said 'ghar ghar Modi'.
"George Orwell's Big Brother is here and welcome to 1984," he had tweeted late on Thursday.