Investigating agencies will have more sweeping powers to intercept and monitor information on computers after a new home ministry order signed by Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba on Thursday. Ten central agencies have been equipped with powers of "interception, monitoring and decryption of any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer".
The agencies listed in the ministry order are the Intelligence Bureau, Narcotics Control Bureau, Enforcement Directorate, Central Board of Direct Taxes, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, CBI, National Investigation Agency, Cabinet Secretariat (R&AW), Directorate of Signal Intelligence (in Jammu and Kashmir, North-East and Assam only) and the Delhi Police Commissioner.
"For the first time, powers of scanning data at rest have been given to various agencies. Earlier, only data in motion could be intercepted. But now data revived, stored and generated can also be intercepted as powers of seizure have been given," a senior bureaucrat explained to NDTV.
This means not just calls or emails, but any data found on a computer can be intercepted. The agencies will also have powers to seize the devices.
"IB (Intelligence Bureau) has no powers of seizure - they operate in collaboration with state police forces. Now it seems to have changed with the new notification," said the officer.
According to the notification, the subscriber or service provider or any person in charge of the computer resource is bound to extend all facilities and technical assistance to the agencies. If not, they can face seven years in jail and a fine.
The home ministry has authorised the agencies to intercept information under 69 (1) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 which says the central government can direct any agency after it is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient to do so in the "interest of the sovereignty or integrity of India, defence of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence relating to above or for investigation of any offence".
The current notification is to intercept information on computers. Earlier, the government had authorised agencies to tap phone calls after permission from the Home Secretary. The order was last updated in 2011 and enables agencies to get into social media accounts and telephone intercepts.
"This order adds a new domain and stretches powers of law enforcement agencies and in present day it is needed," a home ministry officer said.
The government order has drawn sharp reactions.
Left leader Sitaram Yechury tweeted: "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."