India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, a federal government authority that controls the country’s internal security, has authorized ten government agencies – including the country’s federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies – to monitor, intercept, and decrypt all data on all computers in the country.
The governmental order detailing the new powers immediately drew strong criticism from both India’s privacy activists and its opposition parties, who said it enabled blanket state surveillance, and violated the fundamental right to privacy that India’s 1.3 billion citizens are constitutionally guaranteed.
People who don’t comply might face up to seven years in prison and a fine, according to India’s Information Technology Act, which the order falls under.
It wasn’t immediately clear why the Ministry of Home Affairs had issued the order. A ministry spokesperson did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
Indians on social media immediately expressed their concern.
“What this order essentially does is gives a wide berth to security and investigative agencies to access data and information protected by the fundamental right to privacy without providing reason why such a draconian measure has been invoked,” Chitranshul Sinha, a Supreme Court lawyer in India, who called the order “unconstitutional”, told BuzzFeed News.
Surveillance measures in the interest of national security can already be invoked under India’s Information Technology Act, but the Act demands that the government provide written reasons that clearly explain why such measures are necessary.
“This latest order completely bypasses that,” said Sinha. “There might be good reasons based on security and sovereignty of the country necessitating such an order, but the lack of any reasons and no end date for the measures provided in it makes it untenable in the eyes of law. I hope somebody challenges it in court”
Hours after the order became public, India’s opposition leaders attacked the government, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Rahul Gandhi, the president of the Indian National Congress, the largest opposition party to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), hit out at the Prime Minister.
Ahmed Patel, a Congress leader, called the order a “direct assault on civil liberties and personal freedom of citizens.”
P Chidambaram, who headed up the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2009, told Indian news wire service ANI that “if anybody is going to monitor computers, then it is an Orwellian state.”
Randeep Singh Surjewala, a Congress leader, tweeted that the government wanted to snoop on India’s computers after the BJP lost elections in three key states earlier this month.
Sitaram Yechury, leader of the Communist Party of India, said that the order treated every Indian “like a criminal”
“George Orwell’s Big Brother is here,” tweeted Asaduddin Owaisi, a member of the Indian Parliament and president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen political party. “Welcome to 1984.”