A bench, headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi, issued notices to all of them on Monday and posted the case for hearing after the notices were served and responses were filed – a process expected to be completed in six weeks.
The Supreme Court issued notices to the Ministry of Home Affairs on December 20, 2018, government gazette notification authorizing at least 10 Intelligence and investigating agencies and the Delhi police to monitor, intercept and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer.
The petitioners - Amit Sahni, Mahua Moitra, Shreya Singhal and M L Sharma - alleged that the notification issued under Section 69 of the Information Technology Act was a tool for the government to snoop on the privacy of citizens and hence violated the right to privacy, which has been declared by the SC as part of the right to life.
The NDA government had said the power to 'intercept, monitor and decrypt' information from computer resources had been extensively used by the UPA government. Without this provision, while terrorists would be free to use information technology, the intelligence and investigating agencies would be handicapped, it had said in its defense.
Sharma, in his petition, argued that the new rules would allow the government to access any mobile or computer. These changes would also allow the government to seek decryption of encrypted messages if needed by ordering the intermediary to do so or run the risk of facing prosecution. Refusal to cooperate entails a seven-year jail term and a fine. Sharma said the proposed move was against the right to privacy of citizens which has since been held to be a fundamental right. The Internet Freedom Foundation has also filed a separate petition through advocate Prateek Chaddha, challenging Section 69 of the Act, the IT Rules, 2009, and the notification of Dec 20, 2018. The rules and the Act both impact the right to privacy and fail the test of proportionality, the Foundation’s petition said.
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