SC issues notice to Centre on PIL against 'snooping'

SC issues notice to Centre on PIL against 'snooping'

The Supreme Court on Monday issued notice to the Union government on a plea questioning the validity of December 20 notification allowing 10 central agencies to monitor and intercept records in personal computers of citizens.

A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Ashok Bhushan and Sanjay Kishan Kaul also sought a response from the Centre within six weeks on a plea for staying the order issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

A batch of petitions filed by advocates M L Sharma, Amit Sahni, Shreya Singhal and others like TMC MLA Mahua Moitra challenged the validity of the notification contending it would allow the government to carry on snooping on citizens.

Though the court questioned the petitioners why they have challenged the rules now when those were amended in 2009 allowing issuance of such a notification, it went on to examine the issue.

Senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi and K V Vishwanathan, among others, appearing for the petitioners, claimed that the Information Technology Rules have to be read in light of the right to privacy judgement in the Justice K S Puttaswamy case by the nine-judge bench.

After a brief hearing, the court refused, for now, the stay on the notification but also sought a reply from the government on this issue, within six weeks.

Notably, Section 69 of the IT Act was amended in 2008. This provision empowered the central and state governments to issue such directions “ in the interest of sovereignty or integrity of India, defence of India, security of State, friendly relations with foreign States, or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above or for investigation of any offence ”. 

However, the government was required to record reasons in writing for issuing such directions. 

But the order of December 20, does not record any such reasons and general directions are passed, meaning thereby computer of anyone can be put to surveillance, the petitioners claimed.  

The petitioners claimed the right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution.

Terming the order as "unconstitutional, undemocratic and an assault on the fundamental rights of the citizens of India", they claimed blanket surveillance was bad in law.

"Every citizen cannot be suspected as a criminal...the wish to snoop on every citizen is highly unjustified and contrary to the Constitution of India and the law laid down by the Supreme Court," they said, seeking a direction to quash it to safeguard the right to privacy.

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