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A Chinese Model of Censorship: Govt Proposes IT Act Amendments That Will Break End-to-end Encryption

Online platforms will also have to keep a record of any 'unlawful activity' for a period of 180 days.

Barely days after the Narendra Modi government’s move to authorise 10 Central agencies to intercept “any information” on computers —  an order that authorises the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to intercept, monitor, and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer received enormous backlash from the public and the Opposition — new reports point towards the Centre’s unfazed push towards further surveillance of citizens with amendments to the IT Act.

As per reports, the Centre is planning to amend the guidelines related to online content, proposing to make it mandatory for platforms to flag “unlawful” content.

The proposed draft of The Information Technology [Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules] 2018 seeks to amend provisions under Section 79 of the information technology Act. “Intermediaries, or online platforms, must deploy technology based automated tools or appropriate mechanisms, with appropriate controls, for proactively identifying or removing or disabling access to unlawful information or content,” according to the draft. It further adds, “When required by a lawful order, the intermediary shall, within 72 hours of communication, provide such information or assistance as asked for by any government agency or assistance concerning security of the State or cybersecurity; or investigation or detection or prosecution or prevention of offence(s); protective or cyber security and matters connected with or incidental thereto. The intermediary shall enable tracing out of such originator of information on its platform as may be required by government agencies who are legally authorised.”

This, per reports, ensures that platforms will have to break end-to-end encryption and save information on all data, including WhatsApp messages. Online platforms will also have to keep a record of any “unlawful activity” for a period of 180 days. The proposed changes would also mean that social media platforms would be liable to help the government within 72 hours of a query. Social media companies and platforms would be expected to appoint a “nodal person of Contact for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies and officers to ensure compliance”.

Speaking to the Indian Express, Apar Gupta, co-founder of The Internet Freedom Foundation said, “On the face of it, they seem to be contemplating pro-active censorship and breaking encryption with traceability. They will make the Internet a corporal environment damaging the fundamental rights of users. All these proposals are being discussed secretly without any public consultation. I worry that the recent government measures are taking us very close to a Chinese model of censorship.”

Also read: Opposition Slams MHA Order Giving Snooping Powers to Investigative Agencies

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