ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Questioning Surveillance sans Data Protection

The Ministry of Home Affairs’ recent notification is yet another reason why we urgently need a data protection law.


Last week, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) brought out a notification authorising 10 government agencies to intercept, monitor and decrypt “any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer” under the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 and its 2009 rules. It has also emerged since that the government is proposing to bring in amendments to the 2011 rules under the IT Act regarding guidelines for intermediaries (communications platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram). It proposes the regulation of “unlawful” social media content, requiring these intermediaries to provide the government with “traceability” of encrypted content—defeating the purpose of end-to-end encryption—and increasing the period of time for which data has to be stored by them. The scare and frenzy that erupted following the notification was responded to by the government, quite characteristically, as just implementation of the laws that were brought in by the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

There is a need to revisit not just this notification, but the IT Act itself as well as India’s surveillance framework, especially in light of the landmark judgment on privacy in the K Puttaswamy case in 2017. It is not as if the government has not already been surveilling and intercepting data all these years; a 2014 report had stated that 9,000 phones were tapped every month in India. The government’s Centre for Development of Telematics (C-Dot) had also rolled out in 2013 the Central Monitoring System, an automated mass surveillance project that the C-Dot annual report, released earlier this year, describes as “practically complete.”

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Updated On : 11th Jan, 2019
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