Hyderabad: G Kishan Reddy, Minister of State for Home Affairs ducked a few questions put forward by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) MP Dayanidhi Maran. The MP from Tamil Nadu posed a seven-part question to the Kishan Reddy relating to Indian citizen’s digital privacy. However, the minister ignored most of the parts only to explain the legal possibilities that allow them to intercept, monitor, or decrypt information in the interest of India.
Regardless, the answer gives us an insight into the legal protocols and passages by which the government (central and state) tap into messages between private citizens. Here is the short gist of it.
Section 69 of the IT (Information Technology) Act, 2000 empowers central and state government to intercept, monitor or decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, or security of the nation (state), friendly relations with foreign countries or public order. Similarly, Section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, empowers lawful interception of messages during a public emergency in the interest of public safety.
This power of interception is to be exercised as per the law, rules and standard operating procedure (SOP). The Union Home secretary approves each issue in case of the central government, and a state’s home secretary deals with the matter concerning the state government.
The competent authority in the central government has authorised the following ten agencies for the purpose discussed above.
1) Intelligence Bureau
2) Narcotics Control Bureau
3) Enforcement Directorate
4) Central Board of Direct Taxes
5) Directorate of Revenue Intelligence
6) Central Bureau of Investigation
7) National Investigation Agency
8) Cabinet Secretariat (RAW)
9) Directorate of Signal Intelligence (For service areas of Jammu & Kashmir, North East and Assam only)
10) Commissioner of Police, Delhi
The safeguards and review mechanism have been prescribed in Rule 419A of the Indian Telegraph Rules and the Information Technology Rules, 2009, and standard operating procedure issued for the purpose.
There is no blanket permission to any agency for the interception, monitoring or decryption, as permission from a competent authority is required according to due process of law and rules in each case. A committee chaired by the cabinet secretary in the case of the central government and chief secretary of the state concerned in case of state government review individual cases.
Coming back to the question at hand, Kishan Reddy’s answer, however, does not address the other questions posed by the DMK MP. The latter had asked if the government taps WhatsApp calls and messages, other platforms that provide similar services, and whether the government uses the Israeli malware Pegasus for tapping the services. A lack of answer to these questions creates more concerns than intended.