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Home / Tech / Fight against child porn: Indian parliamentary panel wants to break social media encryption

Fight against child porn: Indian parliamentary panel wants to break social media encryption

The panel has met officials from Google, Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp and have come up with a 21-page report which is going to be “considered” by several ministries while drafting future policies and law.

tech Updated: Jan 28, 2020 17:47 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
A parliamentary panel has urged to let Indian enforcement agencies break end-to-end encryption to hunt down people distributing child pornography online. This request has come in at a time when India is looking to bring in fresh regulations for social media in the country.
A parliamentary panel has urged to let Indian enforcement agencies break end-to-end encryption to hunt down people distributing child pornography online. This request has come in at a time when India is looking to bring in fresh regulations for social media in the country. (Shutterstock)

A parliamentary panel has urged to let Indian enforcement agencies break end-to-end encryption to hunt down people distributing child pornography online. This request has come in at a time when India is looking to bring in fresh regulations for social media in the country.

The panel has met officials from Google, Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp and have come up with a 21-page report which is going to be “considered” by several ministries while drafting future policies and law.

“It is a challenge to our collective conscience,” the panel wrote in the report referring to child pornography. The report, that was reviewed by Reuters, seeks to break “end-to-end encryption to trace distributors of child pornography” stating that Indian law enforcement needs to trace the ‘originator’ or sender of these messages that contain child porn when it is brought to their notice.

India is currently working to finalise rules that will force social media bigwigs to deploy automated tools against unlawful content. This has also lead to the social media industry getting worried about compliance requirements if more regulations are put in place.

For example, WhatsApp and the Indian government have been facing off from the time, very recently when, mob lynchings across the country were propagated by false rumours spread via the messaging app. The Indian government has been pushing WhatsApp to reveal the orginators of these messages since.

Since WhatsApp messages are protected by end-to-end encryption to protect user privacy, messages cannot be deciphered by WhatsApp or others.

“If a company offers breaking such encryption for child porn, then it will be asked by all agencies. It’s like opening secure borders,” an industry source who sought anonymity said of the panel recommendation.

Also Read: Apple urged to cooperate with US govt after Trump accused company of not ‘unlocking phones of killers’

This argument is similar to Apple refusing to unlock locked iPhone/iPhones belonging to the San Bernardino shooter first and then the shooter who attacked the naval air base in Pensacola, Florida on December 6, 2019. FBI had asked Apple to unlock the devices on both counts but the company had refused stating that if they unlocked the iPhone for the FBI, they would have to do the same for other agencies as well.

Also Read: Apple drops plan to encrypt iCloud backup after FBI intervention

Unlocking a device means creating a backdoor into a service or app. The fact that this backdoor exists puts the app and devices it is on at risk of being exploited by hackers.

However, the counter argument also holds fort. A backdoor makes sense in special cases like terrorist attacks, distribution and creation of child pornography and even malicious fake texts that lead to mob lynchings to bring the criminals to justice. But if the company in question relents to one request, they might be pulled up to honour others as well.

Between 1998 and 2017, about 3.8 million reports of online child sexual abuse imagery originated from India, the world’s highest such figure, says the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, reports Reuters.

But breaking encryption is not all, the parliamentary panel is also recommending the mandating of Internet service providers to “proactively monitor, remove and report” child pornography content to authorities. Online search websites should also block searches for child pornography sites, the panel has added in their report.

Taking it a step further, the panel has added that adult sections denying entry to underage users must be incorporated into streaming platforms like Netflix and on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

Netflix comes with its own set of parental protection controls and Twitter, Facebook etc have checks in place to make sure you are of age, however, all of them can be easily surpassed.