India Wants Tech Platforms To Break Encryption, Scrub "Unlawful" Content

The government of India wants tech platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Google to remove content it deems "unlawful" within 24 hours of official notice, and develop "automated tools" which would "proactively identify and remove such material," reports BuzzFeed, citing the publication of the proposed rules by India's Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY). 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

The rules would also require companies to break end-to-end encryption to allow the government to snoop on communications. 

India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) published the proposed rules on its website following a report on Monday by the Indian Express revealing the government’s proposal to modify the country’s primary IT law to work them in. The report comes days after India’s government seemingly authorized 10 federal agencies to snoop into every computer in the country last week.

The proposed measures have provoked concerns from privacy activists who say they would threaten free speech and enable mass surveillance. -BuzzFeed

 Under the new rules, any platform with over 5 million users in India would be required to appoint a "person of contact" to provide "24x7 coordination with law enforcement agencies and officers," while also maintaining records of "unlawful activity" for a period of six months - or indefinitely if ordered by a court. Each user would also be sent monthly notifications notifying them that the platform can and may "remove non-compliant information immediately and kick the user off." 

A MeitY official discussed modifying India’s IT law to work in the new rules with representatives from at least seven tech companies including Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter in a confidential meeting last week, reported the Indian Express.

If the proposals were to go ahead, it “would be a tremendous expansion in the power of the government over ordinary citizens, eerily reminiscent of China’s blocking and breaking of user encryption to surveil its citizens,” the Internet Freedom Foundation, a digital advocacy organization based in New Delhi, wrote on its website. -BuzzFeed

"[On] the face of it, [the government seems] to be contemplating pro-active censorship and breaking encryption with traceability," said Indian Supreme Court lawyer Apar Gupta, who co-founded the Internet Freedom Foundation. "They will make the internet a corporal environment, damaging the fundamental rights of users," he told the Indian Express

WhatsApp would be one of the largest companies affected by the proposed rules, with over 200 million users in India. The company has resisted the Indian government's repeated demands to build in message traceability, after after people who fell for rumors and hoaxes killed over 30 people this year. 

Sources familiar with WhatsApp’s thinking told BuzzFeed News that just a few months ago, it seemed India was preparing to support the most robust national privacy frameworks in the world, referring to a comprehensive data protection framework that a government committee formulated earlier this year that is yet to receive parliamentary approval.

It’s not clear, said these sources, whether India will now choose to be a leader in privacy or mass surveillance. -BuzzFeed

Earlier this month Australia passed a hotly contested encryption bill requiring technology companies to break encryption if asked by law enforcement agencies, claiming that it was essential to stop criminals and terrorists who utilize secure messaging to communicate.