Be prepared to be snooped by the government

The Department of Telecom may soon allow central agencies to tap your phone without requiring any prior authorisation.

The government formed an inquiry commission to look into the alleged snooping allegations against the Narendra Modi-led Gujarat government. While the central government went all righteous about forming the commission despite the Gujarat government already having one in place to probe the same, it prepared to snoop on the citizens of the country.

The Department of Telecom (DoT) may soon allow central agencies to tap your phone without requiring any prior authorisation. According to an Economic Times report, the DoT plans to introduce a new clause, Section 419B, in the Indian Telegraph Rules of 1951, to enable early implementation of the Centralised Monitoring System (CMS).

The CMS will allow the government to access all digital communications and telecommunications in the country. The automated surveillance system will be geared to track all kinds of private communication–online activities, phone calls, text messages and even social media conversations.

To get away with the uncomfortable questions on surpassing the federal feature of the country, the government had thrown in a bunch of other cases cutting across the state borders to make it a national issue. It included the case of illegal surveillance put on BJP leader Arun Jaitley.

In response, Jaitley had opposed the move with strong words saying that he “never demanded such a commission” to look into his case.

The Gujarat snooping scandal had come to light when two investigative portals, Cobrapost and Gulail, claimed on November 15 that Amit Shah, the former home minister of Gujarat and Modi’s close aide, had ordered illegal surveillance of a woman at the behest of one “saheb”.

A home ministry official also said that the Centre-appointed commission will follow up on unauthorised interception beyond Gujarat, examine if it was done with due authority or if the legal regime was hijacked, and suggest further safeguards against illegal surveillance.

Under the existing provisions of Rule 419(A) of the Indian Telegraph Act, a phone can be tapped only with written authorisation of the Union home secretary or state home secretary. A person responsible for unauthorised interception can face up to three years in prison, or fine, or both.

And now, the DoT is all set to amend the Act itself. According to an internal DoT note seen by the ET, the proposed Section 419B will allow officers of the Telegraph Authority to collect and analyse any message-related information for the purpose of enforcing licence conditions, investigation or pro-active action.

The note says that the CMS will be set up in the interest of national security. The draft of the new clause had reportedly been sent to the home ministry for comments.

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