Centre files affidavit in Delhi HC defending surveillance systems

The central government, on behalf of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the ministry of communications and information technology filed an affidavit before the Delhi High Court on Wednesday defending the Centralised Monitoring System (CMS), Network Traffic Analysis (NETRA), and National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) surveillance systems.

These systems are concerned with information sharing and surveillance between the law enforcement agencies. It also allows the bulk collection of personal data and analysis by law enforcement agencies.

The affidavit filed before the Delhi HC said that the joint plea filed by NGOs Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) and Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC), challenging these projects as a violation of privacy and illegal surveillance was based on “factually and technically inaccurate knowledge apparently gathered from unconfirmed sources”.

It added that the “grave threats from radicalisation, cross-border terrorism, cybercrime, organised crime, and drug cartels cannot be underestimated or ignored, thus necessitating the need for speedy decisions on requests for lawful interceptions.”

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It also said that all surveillance or data gathering requests would have to come from legitimate law enforcement agencies and would be scrutinised as per the rules under the Telegraph Act and the IT Act.

The PIL had sought an oversight mechanism to be created over the upcoming surveillance systems on grounds that they could allow for extensive public surveillance and violation of privacy.

The government on the other hand, has now said that these systems do not give any blanket permission to agencies to conduct surveillance, interception or decryption, and that permission from a competent authority would be required for any surveillance.

The center has also clarified that the NATGRID project would “not allow for real-time profiling” of individuals, but would allow the agencies to get selective information about selective entities as a part of an anti-terror framework to “facilitate access to information from various data sources.”

This means the system would allow law enforcement agencies to pool data collected by the various agencies under the criminal procedure code and other laws.

The centre said that the oversight mechanisms are already in place, and there is no reason to demand further oversight. It further said that review committees for the interception orders have been provided under the Telegraph Act and rules, with the Cabinet secretary as the head of the review committee.