Govt proposes law to intercept encrypted messages on WhatsApp, Signal

Published on Sep 22, 2022 12:38 PM IST

The bill, if implemented in its current form, will have reaching ramification for the industry that is based on the premise of privacy and security of encrypted messages

The government has sought public feedback on the same. (File image)
The government has sought public feedback on the same. (File image)
ByDeeksha Bhardwaj

The government has proposed a law to bring under a legal framework the interception of over-the-top communication services (OTT), such as WhatsApp and Signal which are encrypted, according to the new draft telecommunications bill uploaded late on Wednesday.

According to definitions in the bill, telecommunication services means, service of any description (including broadcasting services, electronic mail, voice mail, voice, video and data communication services, audiotex services, videotex services, fixed and mobile services, internet and broadband services, satellite-based communication services.

It also includes internet-based communication services, in-flight and maritime connectivity services, interpersonal communications services, machine to machine communication services, over-the-top (OTT) communication services) which is made available to users by telecommunication.

Also Read:Centre prepares draft bill that aims to replace Telegraph act

The government can add any other service that the central government may notify to be telecommunication services. It has sought public feedback on the draft.

The interception will also cover voice and video calls made over such applications, as the government defines messages to include “data stream or intelligence or information intended for telecommunication”.

The bill, if implemented in its current form, will have reaching ramification for the industry that is based on the premise of privacy and security of encrypted messages.

Under section 24 of the draft, the central and state government, or any officer specially authorised in this behalf by the central or a state government can “on the occurrence of any public emergency or in the interest of the public safety” — if it is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient to do so, in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity or security of India, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, or preventing incitement to an offence, for reasons to be recorded in writing, by order — direct that any message or class of messages, to or from any person or class of persons received by any telecommunication services… shall not be transmitted, or shall be intercepted or detained or disclosed to the officer mentioned in such order.

The clause empowers the government to be able to intercept messages, calls on platforms such as WhatsApp and Signal, which are encrypted -- meaning that they are not stored and remain private between users, according to company policy.

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