Proposed Changes To IT Act Heighten Fears Of Surveillance State

Is it necessary for the government to tamper with end-to-end encryption? 

Source: BloombergQuint
Source: BloombergQuint

Days after India permitted 10 central agencies to intercept information from any computer in the country, Indian Express newspaper reported that the government is mulling amending Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 to make it mandatory for online platforms to filter unlawful content.

The government has prepared a draft, Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules 2018, to change the law, according to the report. The draft:

  • Introduces a traceability clause which would break end-to-end encryption.
  • Requires online platforms or intermediaries to use automated tools for proactively identifying and removing unlawful content.
  • Asks online platforms to inform users at least once every month that in case of non-compliance with rules they have the right to terminate the access of users.
  • Wants online platforms to preserve such information for 180 days (currently 90 days) for investigation purposes or longer, if required.
  • Seeks comments and suggestions till Jan. 15, 2019.

Apar Gupta, executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation, likened the proposals to China’s surveillance of its citizens’ online usage. The power of surveillance by the state is not disputed but the amendment must be channelled through a judicial warrant, Gupta told BloombergQuint.

The proposals come after the government allowed 10 central agencies to monitor and decrypt data of any computer. While the agencies require approval from a competent authority—Union home secretary in case of the central government and the chief secretary for states—the opposition called it unconstitutional.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, however, defended both the moves citing the explosion of mob violence fuelled by social media rumours, and called the backlash “fear-mongering” in the name of privacy. Amit Malviya, who heads the BJP’s IT cell, said, “If there is a recruitment drive which is going on by ISIS using social media, the government must have a provision of law under which it can seek information about a particular operator, who is operating under his or her own name or under a proxy name,” he said. “That is what the law will enable.”

You must strike a fine balance between privacy and ensuring policing or national security is taken to a level where technology is the facilitator and not a hindrance. That is what the BJP government is trying to do.
Amit Malviya, National Head, BJP IT Cell 
Is India Becoming A Surveillance State?

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