IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


29th February, 2024 POLITY AND GOVERNANCE


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Picture Courtesy: https://www.lawinsider.in/columns/right-to-privacy-and-phone-tapping

Context: A recent amendment has granted the Home Secretary the authority to destroy interception orders, a task that was exclusively held by security agencies in the past. This change has sparked concerns regarding the potential for abuse of power and a lack of transparency in government surveillance practices.


  • The recent authorization granted to the Home Secretary by the Union government to destroy interception orders has raised concerns about the potential misuse of surveillance powers, particularly in the context of intensified surveillance on opposition leaders, journalists, and activists.

Expansion of Powers

  • Under the regulations set in 2009, the authority to destroy interception orders was limited to security agencies. This arrangement likely aimed to ensure that such powers were vested in entities with specific expertise and responsibilities related to national security.
  • The recent amendment alters the 2009 arrangement by extending the authority to the Home Secretary. This shift in power distribution is notable as it moves the responsibility from specialized security agencies to a high-ranking government official within the Ministry of Home Affairs
  • By granting the Home Secretary the authority to destroy interception orders, the amendment effectively centralizes this power within the government, specifically within the office of the Home Secretary.

Secrecy Surrounding Orders

  • The amendment does not provide clear explanations for why the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology decided to centralize the power for the destruction of surveillance paperwork within the Home Secretary's office. The lack of transparency raises questions about the motives behind the decision, making it difficult for the public and stakeholders to understand the government's rationale.
  • The absence of clear justifications for centralizing the power to destroy interception orders makes it challenging to hold the government accountable for its actions. Lack of transparency may undermine the government's responsibility to provide valid reasons for policy changes, especially in matters related to surveillance and privacy.

Criticism and Concerns

  • Centralization of Power: The transfer of authority for record destruction from dedicated security agencies to the Home Secretary raises concerns about consolidating power in a single entity. Centralization can lead to a lack of checks and balances, potentially increasing the risk of misuse or arbitrary decision-making.
  • Reduced Transparency: The change in the process might result in reduced transparency, making it more challenging for the public to scrutinize government surveillance activities. Lack of transparency can erode public trust and hinder accountability, as citizens may not have access to information about the extent and nature of surveillance.
  • Potential for Abuse: There are fears that the expanded power could be exploited to suppress dissent, target political opponents, or infringe upon privacy rights without proper oversight. This potential for abuse poses a significant risk to civil liberties and democratic principles, as unchecked surveillance powers can be wielded for political purposes rather than legitimate security concerns.
  • Lack of Clarity: The reasons behind the amendment are unclear, leading to ambiguity about its purpose and potential implications. The lack of clarity raises questions about the necessity and motivation behind the change, making it difficult for the public and legal experts to assess the potential impact on individual rights and freedoms.

Call Interception in India

Key Points


Legal Basis

The Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 (Section 5(2))

Information Technology Act of 2000 (Section 69)

Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009

Authorizing Bodies

Central Government (Home Secretary)

State Governments (Home Secretary of the State)

Grounds for Interception

Sovereignty and integrity of India

Defence of India

Security of the State

Friendly relations with foreign states

Public order

Preventing incitement to certain offences

Investigation of offences

Agencies Authorized to Intercept

Intelligence Bureau (IB)

Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB)

Enforcement Directorate (ED)

Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT)

Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI)

Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)

National Investigation Agency (NIA)

Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW)

Directorate of Signal Intelligence (DSI)

State Police Departments

Review and Oversight

Review committees at Central and State levels

Record Destruction

Previously, destruction was allowed by security agencies after 6 months (with exceptions).

After the recent amendment, the Home Secretary or other authorized bureaucrats also hold this power.

Way Forward

  • Stakeholder Consultation: Engage in a transparent and inclusive consultation process involving digital rights activists, legal experts, civil society organizations, and other relevant stakeholders. Solicit their input to shape policies that respect individual rights while addressing national security needs.
  • Clarity and Purpose: Clearly articulate the reasons behind any amendments to surveillance and data retention policies. Provide a well-defined and specific purpose for the changes to foster understanding and trust among the public.
  • Oversight and Accountability: Strengthen oversight mechanisms to ensure that any exercise of power, especially in record destruction, is subject to rigorous scrutiny. Independent bodies should be empowered to review and oversee surveillance activities to prevent abuse.
  • Transparency Measures: Enhance transparency in government surveillance practices by regularly disclosing relevant information about the scope, scale, and nature of data collection and retention. This includes providing periodic reports on the use of surveillance powers and the outcomes of oversight mechanisms.
  • Legal Safeguards: Implement and reinforce legal safeguards to protect against abuses of power. Clearly define the limits of government surveillance, ensuring that it is in accordance with established laws and respects fundamental rights.
  • Education and Awareness: Conduct public awareness campaigns to educate citizens about their digital rights, the implications of surveillance policies, and the measures in place to protect their privacy. Informed citizens are better equipped to participate in the democratic process and hold the government accountable.
  • Regular Review: Establish a regular review process for surveillance and data retention policies. Periodically assess the effectiveness of the implemented measures, taking into account technological advancements, changing security landscapes, and evolving societal expectations.
  • International Standards: Align surveillance practices with international human rights standards. Cooperation with international organizations and adherence to established norms can contribute to a global framework that respects individual rights while addressing security concerns.


  • The recent authorization granting the Home Secretary the power to destroy interception orders has raised significant concerns about transparency, accountability, and the potential for misuse of surveillance powers by the government.

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FREEDOM HOUSE REPORT: https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/freedom-house-report


Q. How can call interception rules be designed to effectively balance the needs of national security and public safety with individual privacy rights, considering the potential for abuse and the evolving nature of communication technologies?

Answer Structure:

1.Define the terms call interception, national security, public safety, individual privacy rights and communication technologies in the context of the question.

2.Explain the need and purpose of call interception for national security and public safety, citing relevant examples and data.

3.Discuss the challenges and risks of call interception for individual privacy rights, highlighting the potential for abuse and the evolving nature of communication technologies, such as encryption, VoIP, etc.

4.Analyze the existing legal and institutional framework for call interception in India, such as the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Information Technology Act, 2000, the Supreme Court judgments on privacy and surveillance, etc.

5.Suggest some measures to improve the design and implementation of call interception rules to effectively balance the needs of national security and public safety with individual privacy rights, such as judicial oversight, parliamentary scrutiny, transparency and accountability, public awareness and education, etc.