Social media guidelines diluting end-to-end encryption?

Centre's new guidelines diluting messaging apps' end-to-end encryption policy?

Experts have raised concerns about the possible impact on user's privacy and free expression

Representative Image. Credit: Reuters Photo

Following Centre's new guidelines for digital players, messaging apps like WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal are in soup over their flagship feature — end-to-end encryption. 

The government on Thursday released new norms to tackle "mischievous" information which mandates that the tech companies, such as WhatsApp, reveal the originator of messages that threaten national security or sovereignty, or those related to crimes like rape.

Experts have raised concerns about the possible impact on user's privacy and free expression. 

WhatsApp, which claims all the messages are end-to-end encrypted, has over 400 million users in India, making the country a large and growing market for India. Meanwhile, its new privacy policy has received flak from critics thus opening space for comparatively newer players in the segment like Telegram and Signal. Signal also claims the conversations on its app are secure.

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Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said that the government does not intend to end platforms' end-to-end encryption."When we’re talking about the first originator, we’re not asking them to disclose the content. Simple question — who began this mischief? It will be only in relation to issues where the punishment is for more than five years, such as security, the sovereignty of India, rape etc," he said. 

The Centre also claims that there are safeguards in place to prevent any misuse of the law.

Under the new guidelines, the messaging platforms are only mandated to reveal the originator and Prasad says the content of the message or information about the users are not required. If the contentious information is originated overseas, whosoever shares the message in India will become, as the government calls it, "first originator."

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These regulations may require platforms like Whatsapp to dilute their privacy policy, end-to-end encryption being an important one. 

Experts say this undermines the privacy of the user and endangers free expression. Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) executive director Apar Gupta told The Economic Times that "many new requirements in the new rules undermine their [users] privacy and free expression."

Kazim Rizvi, the founder of tech policy think tank The Dialogue, told the publication that finding the originator would "not be possible without breaking end-to-end encryption" and that the new rules must be "reconsidered." 

However, some welcomed the Centre's decisions saying the guidelines separate social media from other intermediaries.  

The government says the rule will be mandated only when other less intrusive measures are considered. WhatsApp, however, has stayed firm that end-to-end encryption will not be dissolved.

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