Backlash compels govt to withdraw draft encryption policy
Following a public uproar over threat to privacy, the government today withdrew the draft encryption policy which made it mandatory for storage of all messages, including social media, for 90 days.
"I personally feel that some of the expression used in the draft are giving rise to uncalled-for misgivings. Therefore, I have written to DeitY to withdraw that draft, rework it properly and thereafter put in the public domain," Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters here.
Generally, all modern messaging services like WhatsApp, Viber, Line, Google Chat, Yahoo Messenger and the like come with a high level of encryption and many a time, security agencies find it hard to intercept these messages.
"Yesterday, it was brought to our notice that draft has been put in the public domain seeking comments. I wish to make it very clear that it is just a draft and not the view of the government. I have noted concerns expressed... by the public," Prasad said.
As per the original draft, the new encryption policy proposes that every message a user sends -- be it through WhatsApp, SMS, e-mail or any such service -- must be mandatorily stored in plain text format for 90 days and made available on demand to security agencies.
Prasad said the government under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promoted social media activism.
"The right of articulation and freedom, we fully respect but at the same time, we need to acknowledge that cyber space transaction is rising enormously for individuals, businesses, the government and companies," Prasad said.
The draft proposed legal action that could entail imprisonment for failure to store and produce on demand the encrypted message sent from any mobile device or computer.
The draft, issued by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology, was applicable on everyone, including government departments, academic institutions, citizens and for all kinds of communications -- be it official or personal.
Besides, all service providers located within and outside India that use encryption technology must register themselves with the government, as per the draft.
Prasad, however, maintained that there's need for an encryption policy which would apply to those who are involved in encrypting a messaging product "for a variety of reasons".
The policy was proposed under section 84 A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 through an amendment in 2008.