Delhi HC directs Centre to file detailed affidavit in PIL on data collection, surveillance of citizens


NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court on Tuesday sought a detailed affidavit of the Centre in a plea seeking to stop the collection of data through Central Monitoring System (CMS), National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) and Network Traffic Analysis (NETRA) stating that there is no blanket permission to any agency for interception or monitoring or decryption.

The plea also stated that the authorised agencies require the permission of the competent authority that is Union Home Secretary in each case as per the due process of law and justification for interception or monitoring or decryption.

A bench of Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh on Wednesday directed the central government to file a response with details regarding the procedure followed by them on allegations regarding monitoring and interception of phones and other such methods of surveillance and posts the matter for September 30.

The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed by NGO CPIL alleging surveillance of citizens by the Centre. Advocate Prashant Bhushan appearing for the petitioner submitted that this is not about targeted surveillance like the pegasus, but a system of general surveillance put into place by the Centre.

Advocate Bhushan also sought a Judge-led committee to be constituted which will go into this issue and ascertain what exactly is being done and what permissions were given by the government. “My case is not limited to phone tapping. They are tracking entire internet traffic,” he alleged.

However, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta opposed the allegation made by Prashant Bhushan and said let the government file reply to what is relevant.

Earlier, in an affidavit filed by Standing Counsel Ajay Digpaul, the government told the court that permission regarding interception can be given only for the purposes mentioned in section 69 of the IT Act 2000, that is sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above, or investigation of any offence.

“Centre had further submitted that the grave threats to the country from terrorism, radicalization, cross border terrorism, cybercrime, organized crime, drug cartels cannot be understated or ignored and a strong and robust mechanism for timely and speedy collection of actionable intelligence including digital intelligence, is imperative to counter threats to national security,” the affidavit read.

The government further added that this is undeniably legitimate state interest and hence submitted, “It is therefore imperative that the requests for lawful interception monitoring must be dealt with by the executive authority to maintain speed and promptitude in taking decisions. A well laid down procedure for oversight by a committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary doubtlessly ensures that the provisions of law, rules and SOP are adhered to.”

The government submitted that though the right to privacy is held to be a sacred fundamental right and is being respected by the Government of India, the veil of privacy can be lifted for legitimate state interest namely in the interest of sovereignty or integrity of India, defense of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for, preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to the above-referred categories or for investigation of any offence.

The government said that the petitioner’s allegation that the Centralised Monitoring System (CMS), NATGRID and NETRA allow the law enforcement agencies for bulk collection and analysis of personal data illegally and do not follow the privacy safeguards with adequate oversight as laid down by the Court, is totally wrong.

The government said that the structure and functioning of CMS, NATGRID and NETRA, are designed to strengthen the existing lawful interception process for more secure and transparent function within prescribed legal provisions and procedures.

Further, the Standard of Procedure for the interception, handling, Use, Copying, Storage and Destruction of Messages and telephonic intercepts emails under Section 5(2) of Telegraph Act and section69 of IT Act issued by MHA on 19.5.2011, clearly mandates that the direction for interception or monitoring of any message or class of messages or any information generated, transmitted, received, or stored in any computer resource shall be issued, the government apprised the court.