NEW DELHI – The Indian government’s new surveillance order, authorizing 10 federal security and intelligence agencies to monitor all computers, came under a sharp attack on Friday with opposition parties slamming it as an attack on privacy of millions of netizens in the country.
The order by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which manages the country’s internal security, was notified on Thursday night and was one of the issues that hogged the limelight in both Houses of India’s parliament on Friday.
“The government is giving unlimited powers to all the agencies to monitor every (computer). This is unacceptable in our democracy,” Anand Sharma, a lawmaker from the opposition Indian National Congress, told reporters.
Sharma, accompanied by other opposition leaders in parliament, said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janta Party was turning India into a “surveillance state.”
The government order authorizes 10 security agencies to intercept, monitor, and decrypt “any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource” in the country.
The authorized agencies include the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Research and Analysis Wing (India’s leading foreign spy agency) and Delhi Police, which also reports to the federal government unlike in other Indian states.
The order -based on an earlier regulation approved in 2009- was also criticized by Delhi’s Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, who tweeted that “Modi govt is crossing all limits by seeking control of even the citizens computers.”
Chief Minister of the state of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, also took to Twitter to criticize the order, saying “blanket surveillance is bad in law.”
After widespread criticism, the government defended the order in a statement.
“No new powers have been conferred to any of the security or law enforcement agencies,” the statement said.
The home ministry added that the order simply clarifies which agencies can access computers based on earlier rules and insisted that each case of interception and monitoring would have to be approved by government authorities.
In August 2017, the Supreme Court of India declared privacy a fundamental right of citizens. The country is also drafting new data protection legislation.