Govt exempts WhatsApp, social media from purview of Encryption Policy

Shortly after a controversy erupted over government's plans to snoop on every message sent through WhatsApp, SMS, e-mail or any such service, the Department of Electronics and Information Technology clarified that social media websites and applications will be exempted from the purview of the draft National Encryption Policy.

Updated: Sep 22, 2015, 07:02 AM IST
PlayGovt exempts WhatsApp, social media from purview of Encryption Policy
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New Delhi: Shortly after a controversy erupted over government's plans to snoop on every message sent through WhatsApp, SMS, e-mail or any such service, the Department of Electronics and Information Technology clarified that social media websites and applications will be exempted from the purview of the draft National Encryption Policy.

The mass-use encryption products, which are currently being used in web applications, social media sites, and social media applications such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter etc are being exempted from the purview of the draft National Encryption Policy, said a proposed addendum to the policy posted on the department's website.

Encryption products used in Internet banking and payment gateways, and those used for e-commerce and password-based transactions will also be exempted.

The draft new encryption policy had originally envisaged that every message sent 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.

The move triggered widespread privacy concerns and generated heated debate.

Also Read: Deleting WhatsApp messages could become illegal under India’s new encryption policy!

The original draft had also proposed legal action that could also include imprisonment for failure to store and produce on demand the encrypted messages sent from any mobile device or computer. The policy also wanted everyone to hand over their encryption keys to the government.

The draft proposed 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 have applied 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.

"The common man is not likely to be impacted by this (proposal)," an IT Ministry spokesperson had earlier said.

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, as per the original draft.

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.

(With PTI inputs)