New Delhi: The government’s recent snooping order authorising 10 central agencies to intercept, monitor and decrypt information contained in “any” computer system attracted a lot of criticism from the political spectrum. However, the order to curb ‘unlawful content’ is in line with the draft Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Amendment Rules, 2018, relating to cases in front of the Supreme Court recently.

According to section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, the Centre or a state government or any of its officers could direct any agency to intercept or decrypt any information for the purpose of national security.

Moreover, the Centre has been voicing its concerns to the court over irresponsible content on social media, and the court seemed to be in accordance.

A July 17, 2018 judgment in the Tehseen Poonawalla case, the court gave the government a virtual carte blanche to stop/curb dissemination of “irresponsible and explosive messages on various social media platforms, which have a tendency to incite mob violence and lynching of any kind.”

On December 6, a Supreme Court Bench mentioned online giants Google, YouTube, Facebook, Microsoft and WhatsApp and recorded that “everybody is agreed that child pornography, rape and gang-rape videos and objectionable material need to be stamped out.”

On December 11, the Bench ordered the Centre to frame the necessary guidelines/Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and implement them within two weeks to “eliminate child pornography, rape and gang rape imagery, videos and sites in content hosting platforms and other applications”.

Since October, the government has been trying to convince the court to make social media safe.

A Supreme Court order of October 22 records that the Centre has already prepared a SOP “for taking action by the security/law enforcement agencies under Section 79(3)(b) of the Information Technology Act. A November 28 order records the submission of Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta indicating that “certain actions were required to be taken by the intermediaries”.

The draft rules require the intermediary to trace the “originator of information” for authorised government agencies.

The BJP-led Centre has issued a list of 10 agencies which could legally and legitimately pursue surveillance in the interest of national security. 

The government maintained that the notification did not confer any new powers and adequate safeguards are provided in the IT Act, 2000.

The Modi government, who has been facing flak for 'snooping', hardly did anything beyond the Supreme Court order.

With inputs from The Hindu