Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Friday slammed the Congress for allegedly running an "ill-informed" campaign against the government on intercepting computer data, saying there is "no general snooping order" and the power to intercept in the interest of national security and public order already exists in law. The controversial order issued by Ministry of Home Affairs on Thursday, authorises 10 central agencies, including the Intelligence Bureau, Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate, to intercept, monitor and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer under existing provisions of the IT Act 2000.
The opposition parties led by the Congress slammed the order as unconstitutional, undemocratic and an assault on fundamental rights and an attempt by the BJP government to convert India into a "surveillance state" by resorting to "snooping", inviting a sharp response from the ruling party.
The Congress Speaks Without Thinking https://t.co/hpXvEuOZ4T— Arun Jaitley (@arunjaitley) December 21, 2018
Congress president Rahul Gandhi described Prime Minister Narendra Modi an “insecure dictator”. “Converting India into a police state isn’t going to solve your problems, Modi Ji. It’s only going to prove to over 1 billion Indians, what an insecure dictator you really are,” Gandhi tweeted.
Converting India into a police state isn’t going to solve your problems, Modi Ji.— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) December 21, 2018
It’s only going to prove to over 1 billion Indians, what an insecure dictator you really are. https://t.co/KJhvQqwIV7
In a blog titled 'The Congress Speaks Without Thinking', Jaitley said: "Since morning an ill-informed campaign that government has allowed snooping on computers and is violating the Right of Privacy has been carried out. The Congress Party has got into the habit of speaking out first and understanding the issue only subsequently."
The Congress talks first and thinks later, he said and emphasised that there is "no general snooping order".
Jaitley said the IT Act has been in existence for almost two decades. “Section 69 of the IT Act authorises a Central or a State Government in the interest of sovereignty, integrity and defence of India, security of State etc. (The Article 19(2) Conditions as mentioned in the Constitution) to direct a notified agency to intercept or monitor or decrypt an information stored in a computer resource.
“This provision is similar to the power contained in the Telegraph Act in relation to telephones. The UPA Government had laid down a detailed procedure for this in the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009. Rule 4 authorises the competent authority to name the agencies which can undertake this exercise,” he added.
Jaitley further said: “In fact, during UPA-II in a detailed debate in Parliament relating to a corporate lobbyist, the then Home Minister Shri P. Chidambaram strongly defended this power of interception being given to taxation authorities.”
On Friday, Chidambaram criticised the government's move to authorise 10 Central agencies to intercept "any information" on "any computer" and said an "Orwellian state is round the corner".