SC seeks Centre’s response on plea challenging government’s surveillance powers

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday sought response from the Modi government on a petition challenging the constitutional validity of governments power of surveillance under the Telegraph and the Information Technology Acts.

The notice seeking the Centre’s response came in a petition filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) contending that the said provisions permit surveillance which violates fundamental rights and freedoms under Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution and cause injury to public interest.

Filed before a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, the petition, citing RTI replies, Ministers’ reply to Parliament as well as “Transparency Reports” published by Google, Facebook, and Twitter, have pointed out “rampant abuse and misuse” of the surveillance power by the government.

Citing RTI replies in 2011 and 2013, the petition pointed out to the Ministry of Home Affairs revealing that “7500 to 9000 orders for interception of phone calls are issued monthly by the Central Government. In addition, it was revealed that about 500 orders are issued every month for interception of emails”.

Enclosing the transparency reports, the petition said that Google received 5,105, Facebook 16,580, Twitter 355 and Yahoo 722 requests respectively, regarding user information from the government in 2018 (till June).

Such requests were the highest in 2017 with Google receiving 8,351, Facebook 22,024, Twitter 576 and Yahoo 1,280 requests each.

“The above details of surveillance/interception clearly show that the State has been abusing the powers to intercept communications in a massive scale without there being any cogent/sufficient reason, without application of mind, in a totally arbitrary manner, completely disregarding the rights of the citizen to enjoy freedom of speech and expression and their privac”,” it said.

The petition seeks declaring as unconstitutional, Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, Rule 419-A of the Telegraph Rules, Section 69 of the Information Technology Act and notifications/circulars issued under these provisions.