Op-Ed: Maximum Government, Minimum Governance!

It’s ‘1984’ all over again! In issuing the notification authorizing 10 central agencies to snoop and decrypt any ANY information ‘generated, transmitted, received or stored’ on a computer, the Modi government has taken India closer to George Orwell’s exposition of a totalitarian state where ‘Big brother is watching you!” every second. Not just what you do or say, but also what you think!!

The Central government’s labored explanation that Friday’s order only ‘codifies’ what has already been made into law in 2008 during the UPA regime simply does not wash. Where was the need to ‘codify’ it if the powers of surveillance already existed? If it was a legal requirement to legitimize the snooping, does it mean that all snooping done in the last 10 years was ‘illegal’? If the government could go about the business of surveillance without a problem for a decade, where was the need to list the ten agencies authorized to carry out snooping operations – that too just months ahead of the general election? The timing, if not the content, of the notification forces one to suspect that the meta data mined through surveillance is proposed to be used for political – read electoral – purposes rather than to safeguard national security as is being made out.

Neither does the claim that all surveillance orders have to be sanctioned by the Union Home ministry allay the legitimate misgivings of the citizenry. As experts have pointed out, Section 69 of the amended Information Act, 2008 and Rule 4 under the Rules framed under the amended Act provide for exemption of this requirement. In any case, how can we trust that the Home ministry would not allow surveillance for political purposes? After all, this government is headed by a person whose Home minister (now the President of the ruling party) had ordered the snooping of a lady when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat, didn’t he? Where is the guarantee that Modi would not do as Prime Minister what he did as Chief Minister?

The notification on snooping may have come now. But the Modi government’s single-minded effort to invade the personal space has been in evidence since much earlier. In March this year, the government wrote to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) saying all direct-to-home (DTH) operators be asked to install a chip in the set top boxes to get data on the channels watched by people and their duration. Why on earth does the government need to keep tabs on the viewing habits of the citizens? Even the fig leaf of ‘national security’ that it has used to justify all snooping exercises was not applicable in this particular case.

In May, it came up with another hare-brained idea: a social media hub in every district of the country. Earlier, it had inserted a pernicious Sec 57 in the Aadhar Act formulated by the UPA government that made Aadhar card mandatory for a host of services, including banking and mobile phone connections. Mercifully, the Supreme Court struck down the section even as it upheld the constitutional validity of Aadhar.

Curiously, all these attempts at intruding into the privacy of citizens have come after the apex court ruled last year that the ‘right to privacy’ is a fundamental right. It is revealing that all through the hearing, the Modi government opposed the notion of privacy as a ‘fundamental right’ tooth and nail. [Just as it had pleaded for the retention of the draconian Sec 66 (A) of the Information Act, which allowed arrest of a person for an ‘offensive’ social media post.] These are the quintessential fascist, totalitarian traits of the State that had prompted George Orwell to write ‘1984’.

At the start of his innings as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi had promised us ‘Minimum government, Maximum governance’. As he is nearing the end of his five-year term, he has delivered the exact opposite: Maximum government, Minimum governance!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)