New Delhi: When cops at the lowest level of the Delhi Police can attempt to snoop on the current finance minister Arun Jaitley, think about the privacy of the common man. Already facing criticism on illegal call interceptions, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has given another tool to 10 securities, investigating and intelligence agencies to intercept, monitor and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in ‘any’ computer.

According to experts, this order means that the government, by taking service providers into the loop, can trace your internet traffic, data of social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, and even WhatsApp. However, it would not be possible for the investigating agency to listen to encrypted calls but they can acquire details, such as on which number the person made the calls, total time of calls, etc.

Even police officers are also claiming that this can lead to another level of snooping, as without knowing the person, investigators and cops can now divert internet traffic, intercept and analyse data. According to a senior IPS officer who investigated several high profile cases, this would enable the investigating agencies to intercept data without the knowledge of that person. “Now we can ask internet service providers to provide and divert traffic of someone’s data which can be used to solve any crime or trace any criminal. It would also help the central intelligence agencies to get crucial details,” the officer said.

“This would also increase snooping as now the agencies and police can easily intercept personal data stored in any computer without the knowledge of that person. It will also enable the government to get details like personal photos, data, and emails through service providers,” the officer added.

According to the MHA’s order, agencies like Intelligence Bureau, Narcotics Control Bureau, Enforcement Directorate, Central Board of Direct Taxes, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, CBI, National Investigation Agency, Cabinet Secretariat (RAW), Directorate of Signal Intelligence (in Jammu and Kashmir, Northeast and Assam only) and the Delhi Police Commissioner can grant permission for interception, monitoring and decryption of any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer.

Delhi Police snooped on Arun Jaitley

In 2013, when Jaitley was the leader of the Opposition, a major scandal broke out when six people, including three Delhi Police officials, were arrested for recording his call record details (CDR).

The matter came to light when a service provider got a request from the Delhi Police official account asking for Jaitley’s details and his family members’ CDR. When the service provider reconfirmed with the Delhi Police about the request, senior officers refused to send any information and constituted a team to probe the matter. According to the police, a group of detectives and cops were illegally snooping on politicians, businessmen, journalists, and others. 

What does the MHA have to say?

  • The Statutory order (SO) dated 20.12.2018 has been issued in accordance with rules framed in the year 2009 and in vogue since then.
  • No new powers have been conferred to any of the security or law enforcement agencies by the SO dated 20.12.2018.
  • A notification has been issued to notify the ISPs, TSPs, Intermediaries etc., to codify the existing orders.
  • Each case of interception, monitoring, decryption is to be approved by the competent authority, i.e., Union Home secretary. These powers are also available to the competent authority in the State governments as per IT (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring, and Decryption of Information) Rules 2009.
  • As per rule 22 of the IT (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring, and Decryption of Information) Rules 2009, all such cases of interception or monitoring or decryption are to be placed before the review committee headed by the cabinet secretary, which shall meet at least once in two months to review such cases. In the case of state governments, such cases are reviewed by a committee headed by the chief secretary concerned.