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Saikat Datta @saikatd
, 23 tweets, 4 min read Read on Twitter
There's a lot of misinformation around the #surveillance notification that came out yesterday. Here's #thread that will help clarify issues.
Is the notification new? Obviously, yes. But is the issue new? Not at all. What the Modi Govt did was only take the next logical step in am existing law.
So what was the law. This is where it gets interesting. The surveillance laws come out of an 18th century postal act that gives powers to intercept communications of correspondents during war.
As technology moved to the telegraph, the same provisions moved to the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885. Section 5 of the Act deals with interception of telegraphs.
In 1996, PUCL challenged the Constitutional validity of section 5 of the Act. In an earlier judgement where privacy was cited as a defence against surveillance, the SC had ruled by majority that it doesn't apply to surveillance.
So, in 1996, the SC again ruled that section 5 of the Act was constitutional, but needed many safeguards. Primarily fixed responsibility on the Home Secretary and created a monitoring committee.
These guidelines of the SC were incorporated into the rules under the Telegraph Act and guided the legal interception of telecommunications. The union cabinet secretary, law secretary and telecom secretary became the members of the monitoring committee.
In 2000, when the Information Technology Act was created, many of these interception provisions were also worked into them. However, post the 26/11 attack on Mumbai, where VoIP was used by terrorist handlers, rules needed to be framed.
In 2008, while the IT Act was amended to bring in elements of cybersecurity and reframe some provisions, as well as clarify confusion over surveillance sections, the rules under the Act were passed in 2009.
This brings in another critical and fascinating aspect of surveillance. If you have powers to carry out legal surveillance, you have to also specify who can do it. Post 1996, the govt created a gazette notification empowering 8 central agencies and the state police to intercept.
In 2011, this list was expanded to also include R&AW. Why an external intelligence agency was given the powers to snoop on Indian citizens when you already have the Intelligence Bureau
But here's the biggest question that is never addressed. What's the legal status of the agencies like the IB, R&AW, etc which have the powers to snoop on citizens?
Turns out that agencies like the IB were created by colonial Britain via a telegram! And even though the Constitution has provision for agencies to be created by an Act of Parliament, this was *never* done!
This has been done deliberately because every government wants to manipulate these agencies for political use. Ask yourself this. If you are illegally under surveillance, what is your protection? Fact: NONE
In India, there is no judicial or Parliamentary oversight of surveillance. Only bureaucratic. But are they up to the job? Read on.
A few years ago I filed an RTI asking how many phones are tapped at the federal/central level anually?
The answer, under RTI from MHA:
That means:
Annual 100,000 applications
Monthly: 7000 to 9000
Per day: 300
Only one person, the union home secretary, has to sign at least 300 orders every day!
Can she/he apply her mind to this at all?
Can the monitoring committee protect your privacy and prevent illegal snooping?
Three bureaucrats get just a couple of hours every month to look at over 10,000 numbers and 1000s of emails under surveillance.
Just a couple of hours. That's all.
So the agencies notified by the Modi Govt, are the *same* empowers for telephone surveillance for decades. It's not new. The powers are not new. The implications are not new. Modi Govt is as guilty as past governments of expanding surveillance on citizens.
But is surveillance helping? Ask yourself this:
Is terrorism down?
Is tax evasion down?
Is corruption down?
Is law and order better?

If your answer is a NO, then you know how successful surveillance really is.
And if you don't believe me, take all the terror cases in courts right now, and check how much of it is supported by evidence collected under legal surveillance. You will be shocked.
So you may want to ask where is all this surveillance material going? And who is using it? And for what?

The common answer to all this is the Government. Whoever is in power uses this massive surveillance machinery to spy on us, the citizens. And this won't change unless...
... Unless we realise how dangerous this is and what surveillance does to a democracy. It gives power to a very few people to control the rest of us. And we don't even realise it. That's what surveillance does.
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