Snooping Controversy is neither new nor is it limited to India. In fact, where Individual privacy ends and where national security begins is one of the most significant moral debates of our time.
While constitution provides us with a right to privacy, equally important is the fact the Constitution exists because nation exists. There would be no constitution without nation. National security is as important as Individual rights and in some cases, even has precedence.
A full-blown political controversy has erupted over an order issued by the Union Government authorising ten central agencies to "intercept and monitor all data contained in any computer". The opposition has expectedly latched on the issue of snooping controversy and accused the Central Government of running a "police state". While the former Finance Minister P Chidambaram has compared this with "Orwellian state", some opposition leaders have described the state of affairs as an undeclared emergency.n
Rahul Gandhi has directly attacked the Prime Minister over the issue. In a tweet, Gandhi scion said, "Converting India into a police state isn't going to solve your problems, Modiji. It's only going to prove to over 1 billion Indians, what an insecure dictator you really are."n
On the other hand, the government has defended the move and dismissed the very premise of snooping controversy. The Government has said that there is no general snooping order. Section 69 of the IT act already provided the government with the power to intercept. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has countered Rahul Gandhi's assertion by saying that the government has only specified the agencies which shall be authorised to intercept, monitor and decrypt the information stored in any computer.n
Thus, while the opposition has accused the government of playing the big brother, the Government is saying that the provisions for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of data already existed in the law. The Government has only specified the agencies which shall be allowed interception under the provisions of the law. Following is a copy of the said order:nn
The said order has been issued under sub-section 1 of section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 read with rule 4 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules 2009.n
Section 69(1) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 reads, "If the Controller is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient so to do in the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence, for reasons to be recorded in writing, by order, direct any agency of the Government to intercept any information transmitted through any computer resource."n
Rule 4 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules 2009 reads, "The Competent Authority may authorise an agency of the Government to intercept, monitor or decrypt information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource for the purpose specified in sub-section (1) of section 69 of the act."n
Thus, even a cursory reading of the relevant portions of the law reveals that the provision for snooping always existed in the law. Interestingly, the rules (Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules 2009), under which the Government has issued the said order, were specified in the year 2009, when the UPA was in power. Thus, the Government has only defined the names of agencies which shall be allowed to intercept the data under the existing provisions of the law.n
The law very precisely defines the circumstances under which the provisions of the law can be invoked. According to the law, interception and decryption of the date can be ordered in the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence. Furthermore, there are inbuilt provisions to prevent the misuse of powers.n
Nonetheless, snooping Controversy is not new, and neither is it limited to India. In fact, where Individual privacy ends and where national security begins is one of the most significant moral debates of our time. The constitution of India provides every citizen with a fundamental right to personal liberty. Recently, the Supreme Court of India has declared the Right to privacy as an intrinsic part of the fundamental right to life and individual liberty under article 21 of the constitution. Allowing the Government to play the role of big brother and actively track online activities of citizens is definitely inconsistent with the idea of liberal democracy.n
However, equally important is the fact that India survives in a tough neighbourhood. There are dozens of terrorist organisations which are actively working day and night on "bleeding India through a thousand cuts". Even more worrying is the fact that terrorist organisations are using all forms of social media like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube etc. to spread their propaganda. Terrorist organisations are increasingly using sophisticated means of communication to avoid security agencies.n
Governments all around the globe have to tread a fine line between balancing and individual privacy. The hostile environment in which we have to survive makes it necessary for the security agencies to have legal backing to intercept, monitor and decrypt suspect sources of data to stay ahead of terrorist organisations. Since we are barely three months away from General Elections, we will be subject to all sorts of uproars and outrages from political classes and vested interests.n
However, one must bear in mind that though the Constitution of India guarantees us with a right to privacy, Constitution exists because the nation exists. There will be no Constitution without the nation. National security is as important as Individual rights and in some cases, even has precedence.n