On Friday, the Ministry of Home Affairs gave out an order permitting 10 Indian agencies who are now given the authority to snoop in any data ever transmitted on digital medium, or on any computer and also seize any device. The order basically authorises these 10 agencies to carry out surveillance on whomsoever they might “perceive” to be a threat.

As per the order signed by Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba, nine central government agencies and Delhi police are given the powers to “intercept, monitor and decrypt information transmitted by or stored in any computer or any digital device”. So the order basically legalises and authorises the 10 agencies to intercept, scan and access any calls, emails or data stored in any Indian citizen’s computer or mobile phone. This suggests that if the government “perceives a threat to national security or public order”, it can monitor, seize and research any data on the computer resources.

In this case, computer resources includes personal computers, laptops, tablets and mobile phones; and anything sent, received or stored in digital devices – including passwords and photographs – even those not shared online can be accessed by the government, anytime. The 10 agencies authorised to monitor, decrypt, and intercept “any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer” are:

  • 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
  • Directorate of Signal Intelligence
  • Delhi Commissioner of Police

The order about this section of the Information Technology Act created a major uproar in the country, which, the Opposition claims will turn India into an Orwellian surveillance state. The order to treat every citizen as a criminal and jeopardise their privacy, even after the Supreme Court’s right to privacy judgment in 2017 that declared privacy to be a fundamental right in India, and a reaffirmation in the Aadhaar verdict this year, has created a social uproar.

Perhaps, the idea of taking control over looking into 1,342,512,706 people’s private data might be the best idea, since it outrageously violates the fundamental right to privacy, as well as the right to free speech – and the order might need a revision.