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India allows 10 government agencies to access citizens’ digital messages

REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Who’s got more data now?
  • Kuwar Singh
By Kuwar Singh


Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The Indian government has expanded its surveillance powers.

The ministry of home affairs yesterday (Dec.20) authorised 10 national agencies to intercept, monitor, or decrypt any digital information.

All 10 agencies fall under the administrative control of the central government.

Authorised agencies
Research and Analysis Wing
National Investigation Agency
Intelligence Bureau
Central Bureau of Investigation
Enforcement Directorate
Narcotics Control Bureau
Central Board of Direct Taxes
Directorate of Revenue Intelligence
Directorate of Signal Intelligence (northeastern states and Jammu & Kashmir)
Commissioner of Police, Delhi

The government has justified the order under the Information Technology Act, which allows an agency to intercept, monitor, or decrypt any digital information if the government is:

satisfied that it is necessary or expedient to do 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.

Under the Act, any individual or party which fails to assist the authorised agency can face imprisonment of up to seven years.

The Indian government has been in prolonged conversations with Facebook-owned WhatsApp to allow law enforcement agencies to trace messages on its platform, especially after reports emerged that lynch mobs in various parts of the country are being incited by rumours circulated on the app. WhatsApp has refused to allow traceability of messages, citing their end-to-end encryption.

But the wide-sweeping provisions of the Act, which were legislated in 2009, are now “arguably unconstitutional,” said Apar Gupta, executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation, a New Delhi-based advocacy group.

“This order comes after the supreme court judgments on privacy and Aadhaar. The privacy judgment by itself now makes a stricter requirement of safeguards for any kind of acquisition of personal data, and this is then demonstrated in the Aadhaar judgment,” Gupta said.

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