India empowers agencies to snoop on computers; critics decry ‘surveillance state’
By Rahul Singh
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India has authorized 10 federal government agencies to intercept and monitor information from any computer, a move opposition parties said on Friday risked creating a "surveillance state".
The interior ministry said late on Thursday the agencies could "intercept, monitor and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer" under an Information Technology Act.
"For the nation's security, these agencies have been made accountable so that no one else can do these activities," Ravi Shankar Prasad, minister for law and justice and information technology, told reporters on Friday.
The agencies given the powers include the Research and Analysis Wing, the main foreign-intelligence gathering body, the Intelligence Bureau, which focuses on internal operations, the National Investigation Agency, responsible for anti-militant activity, the financial crime fighting Enforcement Directorate, the Narcotics Control Bureau and tax investigators.
They would need approval from the senior-most civil servant in the interior ministry to carry out such surveillance.
But opposition parties led by the Congress party, which governed before Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, said the government had introduced the powers "by stealth", without a debate in parliament.
The government was attacking citizens' right to privacy, they said.
"The BJP government is converting India into a surveillance state," former federal minister and Congress leader Anand Sharma told reporters, flanked by politicians from many opposition parties.
"We collectively oppose it because this gives unlimited powers to all these agencies to monitor every information, to intercept and complete surveillance which is unacceptable in our democracy."
The Supreme Court last year recognized the right to privacy as a fundamental right, and in September it reined in a government push to make a biometric identity system known as Aadhar mandatory for such things as banking and telecom services.
"The ministry has taken a regressive step by delegating powers to different agencies. This is dangerous because there is no independent oversight of the way interception is carried out," lawyer and privacy activist Raman Chima told Reuters.
(Reporting By Rahul SinghEditing by Krishna N. Das)
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