NEW DELHI: Every message that you send--be it through WhatsApp, SMS, Email or any such service--must be mandatorily stored in plain text format for 90 days and made available on demand to security agencies under a draft New Encryption Policy that has triggered privacy concerns.
Legal action that could also include imprisonment has been proposed in the draft policy unveiled by the government for failure to store and produce on demand the encrypted messages sent from any mobile device or computer. The policy also wants everyone to hand over their encryption keys to the Government. The draft proposes that users of encrypted messaging service on demand should reproduce same text, transacted during a communication, in plain format before law enforcement agencies and failing which the government can take legal action as per the laws of the country.
The proposed policy, issued by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology, would apply to everyone including government departments, academic institutions, citizens and for all kind of communications -- be it official or personal. Generally, all the modern messaging services like WhatsApp, Viber, Line, Google Chat, Yahoo messenger etc, come with high level of encryption and many a time security agencies find it hard to intercept these messages.
"All information shall be stored by the concerned B/C entity for 90 days from the date of transaction and made available to Law Enforcement Agencies as and when demanded in line with the provisions of the laws of the country," the draft said. The draft has defined 'B category' as all statutory organizations, executive bodies, business and commercial establishments, including all Public Sector Undertakings, Academic institutions. The 'C category' as per the draft are all citizens including personnel of government and business performing non-official or personal functions.
In case of the user having communicated with foreigner or entity abroad then the primary responsibility of providing readable plain text along with the corresponding encrypted information would be that of the user in the country. Besides this, all service providers located within and outside India that use encryption technology for providing any type of services in India must register themselves with the government, as per the draft. The draft proposes to introduce the New Encryption Policy under section 84 A of Information Technology Act 2000. This section was introduced through amendment in 2008.
The sub-section 84 C that was also introduced through the amendment has provision of imprisonment for violation of the act. "Encryption products may be exported but with prior intimation to the designated agency of Government of India. Users in India are allowed to use only the products registered in India. Government reserves the right to take appropriate action as per Law of the country for any violation of this Policy," the draft said.
The last date for public to comment on the draft is October 16, 2015. "Having a draft on issue is a welcome step. It looks at everything with prism of law enforcemnnt. It will create a license raj. There is very much concern around privacy of citizen. The policy wants messages to be given on demand. If my private information is sought by government, it should be done through courts," Arun Sukumar,Head, Cyber Initiative, said.
Sukumuar said the government is following old mindset in trying to regulate new technology. Medianama Founder and volunteer for 'Save The Internet' forum, Nikhil Pahwa said that the problem is that the government can hold users liable for not keeping copies of their data in a 'plain text' format, when 99.99 per cent of users in the country don't know the meaning of plain text. "There is also a possibility that the 'plain text' data can be manipulated by hackers, or by a government official
with encryption keys who can manipulate stored data. How will an individual be protected against such attacks? An individual's right to privacy is a fundamental right under Article 21," Pahwa said.
The vision of the policy is to "enable information security environment and secure transactions in Cyber Space for individuals, businesses, government, including nationally critical information systems and networks," the draft said. Internet Service Provider Association Of India (ISPAI) President Rajesh Chharia said putting responsibility on customers is not acceptable.
"While we welcome 256 bit encryption which we have been demanding from very long time, government needs to consider secrecy of business as well. National security is paramount but government should think that a terrorist is never going to share encryption code of his tool. Government needs to develop capability to handle such issues," Chharia said.