Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Legal Immunity Against Cyber Deterrent Acts In India And Intelligence Agencies Functioning

Intelligence Agencies generally perform functions that are of "National Interest" to any Nation. However, not all functions of Intelligence Agencies pertain to National Interest and such functions that are not strictly in National Interest can be safely categorised as "Non Sovereign Functions". All "Non Sovereign Functions" must be part and parcel of "Public Domain" and not protected in the "Veil of Secrecy".

Even for "Sovereign Functions" pertaining to National Security and National Interest, Intelligence Agencies must be made "Accountable" to Parliament of the respective Nation. An Intelligence Agency that is not made "Accountable to the Parliament" is nothing but an "Oppressive Arm" of the Executive and works in active violation of Human Rights and Civil Liberties.

Intelligence Agencies around the World are facing difficulties while managing "Technology Issues". These include dealing with Encryption, Cyber Attacks, Cyber Espionage, Cyber Terrorism, etc. As Cyber Security is a Techno Legal field, it is difficult for the Intelligence Agencies to meet the Problems and Challenges of Cyber Security and other technological innovations.

India has been working in the direction of strengthening its Cyber Security Capabilities. As India is a late entrant in this field, Cyber Security in India is still not upto the mark. The Cyber Security Trends and Developments in India 2013 (PDF) provided by Perry4Law’s Techno Legal Base (PTLB) have proved that India is weak in the field of Cyber Security. The Offensive and Defensive Cyber Security Capabilities of India are yet to be achieved.

We have no dedicated Cyber Security Laws in India as on date. The Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act 2000) is the sole Cyber Law of India that also indirectly talks about Cyber Security.  The IT Act 2000 is silent on the issue of conferring legal immunity to hackers and other Law Enforcement Agencies while countering cyber attacks and this is a cause of concern for the Intelligence Agencies of India. It is also true that the Intelligence Agencies of India are also not subject to Parliamentary Oversight that is need of the hour.

International Legal Issues of Cyber Attacks are a cause of concern for India and India need to upgrade her Cyber Security Capabilities. Intelligence Agencies of India are planning to acquire such capabilities with “No Legal Obligation Attached Whatsoever”. This is a draconian power that cannot be conferred to them as that would violate the Civil Liberties Protection in Cyberspace of Indian Citizens. To make the matter worst, we have no dedicated Privacy Laws in India and Data Protection Laws in India (PDF). Even the Right to Information Act, 2005 is not applicable to Intelligence Agencies and many Law Enforcement Agencies of India. India “Must Reconcile” the Civil Liberties and National Security Requirements that is presently not happening.

It has been reported that following security agencies’ demand for legal immunity in cyber deterrence cases, the Deputy National Security Adviser is working on setting up An Inter-Ministerial Group to look into the issue. The Intelligence Bureau has said legal authority for cyber deterrence is very important for agencies in dealing with matters like terrorism. Citing the example of some countries, which have oversight mechanism, agencies have demanded legal immunity.

For example, the United States has a mechanism in place to monitor foreign accounts. However, U.S. is also making its Intelligence Agencies “Accountable” to the Parliament and there are many Statutory Protections against “Abuse of Powers” of these Intelligence Agencies. In India there is no such “Procedural Safeguards” and Intelligence Agencies are openly violating various “Constitutional Protections” and Civil Liberties.

India’s own Projects like Aadhar, National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS), National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), Central Monitoring System (CMS), Centre for Communication Security Research and Monitoring (CCSRM), Internet Spy System Network And Traffic Analysis System (NETRA) of India, etc are violative of Civil Liberties Protection in Cyberspace. None of them are governed by any Legal Framework and none of them are under Parliamentary Scrutiny.

Now the Intelligence Agencies are demanding the power of “Hack at Will” without any “Legal Ramifications”. National security is not a “Blanket Protection” against Illegal and Unconstitutional E-0Surveillance and Eavesdropping. It seems the Intelligence Agencies of India are asking for this “Illegal and Unconstitutional Power” that “No Sensible Government in its Right Mind” would allow.

In a recent meeting on Cyber Security, a representative of the Department of Telecommunication (DOT) said the Department could make some provisions in the Calling Line Identification (CLI) Guidelines that will enable monitoring of at least Foreign Nationals in the country.

The Deputy National Security Adviser, Nehchal Sandhu, is working on setting up an Inter-Ministerial Group comprising the Law Ministry, the Department of Electronics and IT, the Department of Telecom (DOT), IB and the Home Ministry to identify gaps in existing legislation and regulations as well as measures to bridge them.

However, there are “No Such Gaps” as are contemplated by the Deputy National Security Adviser. In effect, the Group is considering how to “Further Confer” Illegal and Unconstitutional Powers upon the Intelligence Agencies. This is really unfortunate as the Group must consider how to make the Intelligence Agencies and Law Enforcement Agencies of India Accountable to the Parliament and how to “Safeguard” the “Constitutional Rights” of India Citizens that are openly violated by these Agencies.

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