New Delhi: Congress MP Manish Tewari introduced a private member’s bill in the Lok Sabha Friday, which aims to regulate the way intelligence agencies function, especially concerning surveillance measures.
It also calls for setting up of tribunals and committees for better control and oversight of such agencies, and for redressal of surveillance-related complaints from individuals.
Tewari told the Lok Sabha that the bill is also to “regulate the manner of the functioning and exercise of the powers of intelligence agencies within and beyond the territory of India”.
The bill happened to be introduced in the Lower House on the same day the government told Parliament that it has “no proposal for banning any NSO Group”, and that it has no information on the United States blacklisting the Israeli firm that developed the military-grade Pegasus spyware.
The Pegasus spyware was at the centre of a raging controversy in July this year, after an international media consortium published reports that said phone numbers of several people — including Opposition leaders, journalists and others in India — were found on a list suggesting that their phones may have been targeted with snooping attempts.
The NSO Group says its products are used exclusively “by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight crime and terror”.
The bill introduced by Tewari Friday essentially seeks to prevent officials of agencies such as Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), Intelligence Bureau (IB) and National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) from entering into any property, or “interference with any form of communication”, without a warrant obtained from a designated officer not below the rank of secretary with the central government.
It highlights the need for a legal framework to regulate surveillance, and stresses on an “urgent need to balance the demands of security and privacy of individuals, by ensuring safeguards against the misuse of surveillance powers of intelligence agencies”.
“Therefore, legislation is imperative to regulate the possible infringement of privacy of citizens, while giving credence to security concerns,” reads the bill.
Oversight of intelligence agencies
The bill seeks to provide for the coordination, control and oversight of such agencies.
It also envisages a tribunal to provide citizens with a mechanism to lodge surveillance-related complaints against the agencies and a separate nine-member ‘National Intelligence and Security Oversight Committee’ — comprising the Prime Minister, Union home minister, Leader of Opposition in both Houses, the Lok Sabha Speaker, one MP from both Houses and the Cabinet Secretary — to examine the administration and compliance of policy laid down under the bill.
The bill says the Centre should set up a three-member ‘National Intelligence Tribunal’, headed by a sitting or retired Supreme Court judge, for investigating complaints against RAW, IB and NTRO.
The tribunal, according to the bill, should be in a position to award compensations to complainants, destroy surveillance data, stop operations initiated by agencies, and also take administrative action against agencies, based on the merit of each case.
The bill was first introduced by Tewari in Parliament in 2011, when the Congress was in power at the Centre, but it lapsed when he became a Union minister in 2012. Private member bills can only be introduced in Parliament by MPs who are not ministers, and technically referred to as “private members” of the House concerned.
The Intelligence Services (Powers and Regulation) Bill was again introduced by him in the monsoon session of Parliament earlier this year but it did not materialise into a law.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)