Digital storm forces govt to withdraw encryption policy draft

Social media platforms and web applications fall outside the scope of the policy

GN Bureau | September 22, 2015


#digital india   #social media   #whatsapp   #twitter  

A storm of digital protests woke up the government. The users objected to stringent state controls on the use of email, social media accounts and apps and bowing to pressure from the public, the government on Tuesday withdrew the draft National Encryption Policy. It sought to control secured online communication, including through mass-use social media and web applications such as WhatsApp and Twitter.

Social media users called the draft “draconian” and “delusional”.

Communications and information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad announced the government’s decision at a news conference after a cabinet meeting, saying the draft policy will be reviewed before it is again presented to the public for their suggestions. Earlier, the last date to comment on the draft was October 16.

“I read the draft. I understand that the manner in which it is written can lead to misconceptions. I have asked for the draft policy to be withdrawn and reworded,” Prasad admitted.

However, he tried to shift the blame of the fiasco. “Experts had framed a draft policy...This draft policy is not the government’s final view,” he said. “There were concerns in some quarters. There were some words (in the draft policy) that caused concern.”

The draft will be reviewed and experts will be asked to specify to whom the policy will be applicable, Prasad said. He did not say when the new draft will be made public.

Those using social media platforms and web applications fell outside the scope of an encryption policy, Prasad said.

Several countries have felt the need for an encryption policy because of the boom in e-commerce and e-governance, he remarked. “Cyber space interactions are on the rise. There are concerns about security. We need a sound encryption policy,” he said.

The government had issued an addendum early on Tuesday to keep social media and web applications like WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook out of its purview. Secure banking transactions and password protected e-commerce businesses too will be kept out of the ambit of the proposed policy, the addendum said.

The climb down by the government came following a storm of protests from users who objected to any stringent state controls on the use of email, social media accounts and apps.

According to the original draft, users of apps such as WhatsApp and Snapchat would be required to save all messages for up to 90 days and be able to produce them if asked by authorities.

If implemented in its current form it could compromise the privacy of users and hamper the functioning of several multi-national service providers in India.

Pranesh Prakash, policy director for The Centre for Internet and Society, tweeted that even the addendum “does not clarify anything, but further muddles the encryption policy”.

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