Eye of the State – on draft Telecommunication Bill

Source– The post is based on the article “Eye of the State” published in The Indian Express on 29th September 2022.

Syllabus: GS2- Fundamental rights

Relevance– Surveillance powers of state

News– The article explains the vast surveillance power provided to the State by the draft Telecommunication Bill and its impact on fundamental rights enjoyed by citizens.

What are the provisions of the draft Telecommunication Bill that provides for state surveillance?

Clause 24(2)– It provides that application of surveillance will extend to OTT communication services like Telegram, Whatsapp. This will violate the privacy of users.

Clause 3 and 4– It requires licensing of telecommunication services.

Clause 23- It provides power to the government to prescribe standards. It will result in more regulations. It may lead to requirements for service providers like local registration and hosting of data. Smaller service providers may find it difficult due to compliance cost and privacy concerns.

Law enforcement agencies are provided more powers on vague grounds like-

Clause 25– It provides for extensive powers to the government like taking over the control, suspending the operation and even managing telecommunications services for reasons of “national security”. The term “national security” is not clearly defined and it is a vague term.

Clause 34– Providing false information by users may lead to their prosecution.

Clause 51– It requires service providers to supply user information to authorised officers for civil or criminal proceedings.

What are other challenges related to state surveillance?

There is a lack of data protection law.

State continues with unauthorised surveillance.

Bombay High Court noted in one of the cases that premier investigating agencies like the CBI have used interception orders that neither have sanction of law nor issued for legitimate aim.

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