New Delhi, Dec 21 (PTI) Accusing the Congress party of running an “ill- informed” campaign against the government on intercepting computer data, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley Friday said there is “no general snooping order” and that the Home Ministry’s decision is in the interest of national security.

Ten central agencies, including CBI, ED, IB and NIA, have been authorised by the Centre to intercept, monitor and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource under Information Technology Act.

The opposition parties led by the Congress slammed the order as unconstitutional, undemocratic and an assault on fundamental rights and an attempt by the BJP government to convert India into a “surveillance state” by resorting to “snooping”, inviting a sharp response from the ruling party.

“Since morning an ill-informed campaign that government has allowed snooping on computers and is violating the Right of Privacy has been carried out. The Congress Party has got into the habit of speaking out first and understanding the issue only subsequently,” Jaitley said in a blog titled ‘The Congress Speaks Without Thinking’.

The Congress talks first and thinks later, he said and emphasised that there is “no general snooping order”.

Noting that the power to intercept in the interest of national security and public order already exists in law, Jaitley said it is only an order as to who are the authorised agencies and it is only in cases mentioned in Section 69 of the IT Act.

“The power existed and was used during the UPA government also. How else will terrorists who use technology extensively be traced? Otherwise, the terrorists will use IT, but the intelligence and investigative agencies will be crippled,” Jaitley said.

The Information Technology Act, he said, has been in existence for almost two decades. Section 69 of the IT Act authorises a central or a state government in the interest of sovereignty, integrity and defence of India, security of state to direct a notified agency to intercept or monitor or decrypt an information stored in a computer resource.

“This provision is similar to the power contained in the Telegraph Act in relation to telephones. The UPA government had laid down a detailed procedure for this in the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009,” he said.

Rule 4 authorises the competent authority to name the agencies which can undertake this exercise, the minister said, adding that there are safeguards, as prescribed by the Supreme Court, which are included in the rules.

These rules have been framed in 2009 by the UPA government. The rules required authorised agencies to be notified.

“In the absence of this authorisation, any police officer may start exercising the power.

“In fact, during UPA-II in a detailed debate in Parliament relating to a corporate lobbyist, the then Home Minister Shri P Chidambaram strongly defended this power of interception being given to taxation authorities,” Jaitley recalled.

On Friday, Chidambaram criticised the government’s move to authorise 10 Central agencies to intercept “any information” on “any computer” and said an “Orwellian state is round the corner”.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.