MHA’s computer snooping order challenged in SC

New Delhi,   Two public interest litigations (PIL) were filed before the Supreme Court on Monday challenging the constitutional validity of the Centres order empowering intelligence agencies and Delhi Police to snoop on all computers, seeking the quashing of the December 20 order.

The petitions filed by advocates M.L. Sharma and Amit Sahni respectively, contend that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) order was “illegal, unconstitutional and ultra vires to the law” and expressed apprehension that citizens may be penalised for expressing views opposing those of the government.

The MHA order authorised 10 Central agencies, including the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Enforcement Directorate (ED), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as well as the Delhi Police to “intercept, monitor and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer”.

The order also binds subscribers or service providers or any person in charge of the computer resource to extend all facilities and technical assistance to the agencies and a failure to do so is penalised with seven-year imprisonment and fine.

The petition by Sahni said the MHA order was a “blanket order” and made without any reasoning as mandated by the Information and Technology (IT) Act.

“Every citizen cannot be suspected as a criminal and the objective of passing the order is to have a surveillance country,” said the petition seeking withdrawal of the order for being “unconstitutional, undemocratic and an assault on fundamental rights of the citizens”.

The petition by Sharma said the MHA order “has been issued to find political opponents, thinkers and speakers to control entire country under dictatorship to win coming general election under an undisclosed emergency as well as slavery which cannot be permitted”.

“The blanket surveillance order must be tested against fundamental right to privacy,” it said and also asked the court to prohibit the agencies from initiating any criminal proceedings or investigation against anybody under the provisions of the Information Technology Act based on the notification and expressed apprehension of serious danger and injury to the freedom, life and liberty of the citizens.

Pointing to the MHA order being “silent” on the reasons for empowering the investigating agencies with “such vast powers”, the petition argued that people may be subjected to investigation by the Central agencies “without recording reasons in writing”.

Incidentally, Sharma was recently reprimanded by the Supreme Court for filing “frivolous” PILs and was imposed a fine of Rs 50,000.

While the Opposition has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of turning India into a “surveillance state”, the BJP-led Central government has defended the decision citing national security and claiming that the order was a mere repetition of the rules passed during the UPA regime in 2009.