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Is the India's new surveillance law threatening privacy?

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Privacy is the right to remain alone or freedom from interference or intrusion. In a democracy, privacy is all about respecting people's personal freedom. If a citizen has a desire to keep something personal and private, government must respect. It is bad and disrespectful to ignore that citizen's wish without a valid and compelling reason. Sometimes, the desire for privacy can conflict with important values which threaten the fabric of democracy. But, the recent order from Ministry of Home Affairs regarding granting of powers to agencies to search intercept, monitor and decrypt any information generated has pushed a majority of the citizens to feel that their privacy is threatened.

What does the order say ?

The Ministry of Home Affairs issued an order granting authority to 10 Central agencies, including the Delhi Commissioner of Police, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, to pry on individual computers and their receipts and transmissions 'under powers conferred on it by sub-section 1 of Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (21 of 2000), read with Rule 4 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009'. The order authorises these security and intelligence agencies to intercept, monitor and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource'. The agencies will also have powers to seize the devices. The agencies are Intelligence Bureau, Narcotics Control Bureau, Enforcement Directorate, Central Board of Direct Taxes, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Central Bureau of Investigation, National Investigation Agency, Cabinet Secretariat (RAW), Directorate of Signal Intelligence (For service of Jammu and Kashmir, North-East and Assam), Commissioner of Police (Delhi).

Why Indian government gives importance to surveillance?

The current surveillance initiative has raised eyebrows and concerns from public and political parties. But many social researchers and political analysts mention that, the government had authorised several agencies to tap phone calls before, but after permission from the Home Secretary. The order was last updated in 2011 and enables agencies to get into social media accounts and telephone intercepts. In this digital age, apart from hacking, data breach, there are threats from various extremists and terrorist groups, so the government is forced to adopt the policy of aggressive intelligence collection and efforts. One should realise that the problems related to 21st century is different and requires new ways and methods of gathering information. As computer and telecom technology has increased, so has the government's ability to gather valuable. Once again, the move towards home grown terror network will necessarily require, by accident or purposefully, collections of Indian citizens' conversations. Moreover, conversations of persons connected to external terror networks should also be gathered. An open society, such as the India, the government needs to use surveillance to protect its citizen.

What are the other risks?

With government surveillance stressing on intercept, monitor and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource, there is a general perception that the sole fascination of the government order seems to be a collection of information or data. This unquestionable gathering of information will push the government at the Centre and most state governments into an information collecting race. After the collection, this procedure will turn India into a military state much similar to a dictatorship. In such cases, democratically elected leaders will begin to suspect every other elected member leading huge problems in democracy, which will later spread to citizens. There could be dangerous scenarios where a citizen's personal data in digital form will be used for harassment, blackmail and identity theft. The misuse of such data by law enforcement agencies could greatly undermine the foundation of Indian constitution and citizen faith in the government.


To conclude, though trends in surveillance and collection of datas could solve cybercrimes, stop terror networks, bring justice to victims of online gender-based violence, the mass surveillance powers of the agencies could result in the suppression of all kinds of privacy rights. Besides, the threat of political spying, it can create an influence on the citizen's freedom of speech, association and democratic participation. If a citizen is constantly being watched, or thinking that he/she is constantly being watched, they will be losing their ability to be free.

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