Indian opposition slams order on intercepting computer data

NEW DELHI — An Indian government order authorizing some federal investigating agencies to intercept any information stored on computers triggered a strong protest Friday in Parliament, with opposition lawmakers describing it as an assault on privacy rights.

The opposition parties demanded an immediate withdrawal of the Home Ministry order issued a day earlier. They fear it would give unlimited powers to 10 government agencies to intercept, monitor and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored on any computer.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, India's minister for law and justice and information technology, rejected the allegation and said there are adequate safeguards to prevent its misuse. Prasad said using the order would require authorization from the ministry's top bureaucrat.

Congress party chief Rahul Gandhi said on Twitter: "The order would convert India into a police state."

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the law already provides the power to intercept data in the interest of national security and public order. The new order just identifies investigating agencies authorized to do so, Jaitley said.

"How else will terrorists who use technology extensively be traced? Otherwise, the terrorists will use IT (information technology), but the intelligence and investigative agencies will be crippled," Jaitley said.

Pawan Duggal, a cyber expert and a Supreme Court lawyer, said the opposition concerns appeared to be genuine and the government needed to have stringent checks and balances to prevent misuse of the new order.

Duggal also said India's Supreme Court recognized last year that privacy is a fundamental right and it could not be tampered with.

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