Indian Government Wants Tech Companies To Give Law Enforcement 24-Hour Access To User Data And Broken Encryption

from the it's-going-to-get-a-whole-lot-worse-before-it-gets-even-worse dept

India's government is joining the rest of the world in seeking more direct control of the internet. We in the US used to be able to point at Section 230 immunity and the First Amendment as evidence of our hands-off approach, but with the passage of FOSTA and multiple legislators demanding tech companies engage in more moderation and less moderation simultaneously, we've ceded a lot of the high ground.

The Indian government, however, is seeking to expand its control of the internet far past what should be considered reasonable in a nation whose government pays occasional lip service to protecting free speech. In addition to its already-abused laws covering certain forms of speech -- which, in practice, tends to mean criticism of government officials -- the Indian government is demanding speedy takedowns of content and direct access for law enforcement to user info, posts, and comments around the clock.

The proposals would… require any platform with more than 5 million users in India to appoint a “person of contact” for “24x7 coordination with law enforcement agencies and officers”, keep a record of all “unlawful activity” for 180 days (or indefinitely if mandated by a court), and send monthly notifications to every user informing them that the platform can “remove non-compliant information” immediately and kick the user off.

This is the result of discussions with representatives from companies including Google, Facebook, Whatsapp, and Twitter. There's no word yet on how compliant these companies will be. The only news that's surfaced so far is the Indian government's long list of demands. And those demands include something becoming distressingly popular in world governments: broken encryption.

“[On] the face of it, [the government seems] to be contemplating pro-active censorship and breaking encryption with traceability,” Apar Gupta, an Indian Supreme Court lawyer and cofounder of the Internet Freedom Foundation, told the Indian Express. “They will make the internet a corporal environment, damaging the fundamental rights of users.”

This will more closely align India's control of the internet with the Chinese model (or the Australian model!) -- something no nation should be in any hurry to adopt. That tech companies may be willing to comply with these demands rather than lose millions of users is worse news for everyone who uses their platforms. One just needs to look at Turkey's stranglehold on Twitter to see where this will be headed: tech companies will be complying with laws not valid in their home countries, allowing authoritarian rulers to silence critics and stifle dissent by proxy.

From what's been observed so far, Whatsapp seems to be the only company publicly resisting the Indian government's advances. Buzzfeed reached out to the other companies involved in these talks but has not received any comments or statements in response. Whatsapp's refusal to cooperate with India's demands for broken encryption dates back several months, but it's unlikely to have changed its views on undermining the protections it offers its users.

It's more bad news for internet users around the world, some of whom are going to be caught up in the Indian government's new net rules, even though they don't reside in that nation. Agreeing to help the government directly police users and/or break encryption will create ripple effects felt far outside the borders of India.

Filed Under: encryption, going dark, india, law enforcement


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Hero, 27 Dec 2018 @ 7:23am

    Traceability?

    “[On] the face of it, [the government seems] to be contemplating pro-active censorship and breaking encryption with traceability,”

    In the original article, WhatsApp takes the same stance as above, but it makes no sense. Encryption and tracing are independent of each other. Something like a VPN or tor might combine the two, but either one can exist without the other.

    Maybe there is some confusion between "end-to-end encryption" and "what WhatsApp does".

    WhatsApp uses store and forward, so sender sends encrypted message to WhatsApp server, then deletes the message after the recipient acknowledges reception (or a timeout of 30-days), which would certainly affect traceability.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2018 @ 7:39am

      Re: Traceability?

      Maybe there is some confusion between "end-to-end encryption" and "what WhatsApp does".

      A public key system allow end to end encryption in a store and forward system, including email. Just make sure the public key you use belongs to your intended recipient, and that you sign messages to detect man in the middle relay attacks.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2018 @ 7:26am

    Reasonable Control

    :: "The Indian government, however, is seeking to expand its control of the internet far past what should be considered reasonable "



    well then, the solution is simple -- the government should be granted only 'reasonable control' of the internet. Nothing more, nothing less.

    The American FCC should immediately adopt that same formal policy: Reasonable Control of the Internet

    Everyone supports 'reasonable' government control of the overall internet. There is no conceivable alternative to such government control, no downside, and all agree on the details of such government control. problem solved

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2018 @ 7:33am

    Time to brush off those old UUCP utilities and adapt them to use with removable flash storage. Also time to figure out the logistics of wide area sneaker nets.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2018 @ 7:35am

    What's up with India?

    They seem to be getting worse than they already were.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 27 Dec 2018 @ 8:48am

    Time

    It's time to coin a name for broken encryption.

    Noncryption perhaps?

    Fauxcryption?

    Weacryption?

    Leacryption?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2018 @ 9:16am

    Depressing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Vic B (profile), 27 Dec 2018 @ 9:31am

    Free speech?

    I think it's high time Americans Left (which I am) took a shot at the meaning of free speech and its use on the internet. In light of the sophisticated manipulation of media content by foreign powers and inside agitators in the US, it makes sense that governments around the world want to have greater oversight of what happens on the web that can affect their country, for better or for worst. There is no such thing as Free Speech when it spews hate or violence. Whoever speaks must own their words and be held accountable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2018 @ 10:36am

      Re: Free speech?

      Looks like your Leftest views are also part of the problem.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2018 @ 11:02am

      Re: Free speech?

      Free speech is worthless unless it covers offensive shit.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 27 Dec 2018 @ 11:21am

      Re: Free speech?

      That's a rather mindless stance. "Free Speech" applies ONLY to controversial speech - who complains about NON-controversial speech?

      Want to sound off about blacks, nazis, gays, muslims, or the usual Victim_Group_of_the_Month, go for it!

      Prove you're an idiot by posting it publicly.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 27 Dec 2018 @ 3:55pm

      'How about 'no' Scott/Vic?'

      Even going with a hypothetical where the vast majority of anonymous speech is made by truly despicable people, given the option between some assholes getting away with being assholes because anonymous/free speech is available, and that not being an option because anonymity has been eliminated, I know which one I'd consider better, both personally and in a free speech context.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 28 Dec 2018 @ 2:19am

      Re: Free speech?

      " it makes sense that governments around the world want to have greater oversight of what happens on the web that can affect their country"

      It makes sense that most totalitarian states want total control over what their citizens are exposed to. That doesn't mean they should be allowed to be totalitarian states.

      "There is no such thing as Free Speech when it spews hate or violence"

      OK.

      Now, definite "hate": and "violence" in terms of speech. The catch is, there will at times be people in charge who have different definitions of those terms, and those definitions will at some pojnt include include you and the speech you consider to be acceptable.

      Sure, you might like the tools when they're used against literal Nazis. But, what happens when the fascists are in power and they decide that anti-Nazi speech constitutes hate speech and anything said against the Jews and socialists is fair game?

      "Whoever speaks must own their words and be held accountable."

      As long as it's by other citizens using their own freedom of speech to rebut and fight back, sure. It's when you allow governments to control the speech and to decide what's acceptable where it becomes difficult.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 28 Dec 2018 @ 6:46am

      Re: Free speech?

      "In light of the sophisticated manipulation of media content by foreign powers and inside agitators in the US, it makes sense that governments around the world want to have greater oversight of what happens on the web that can affect their country, for better or for worst."

      Here's the problem. The issue of encryption is binary. Either it's secure...or it's not.

      If it's not and any entity has a master key to unlock said encryption then it is guaranteed that it eventually leaks. After which whoever holds that master key can empty every bank account belonging to every citizen. Cyber security, for all purposes, ceases to exist.

      And that's not a problem you can solve by "nerding harder". Hence government will have to accept that there are hard limits to what oversight they can have over what is, essentially, private conversation.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2018 @ 10:21am

    There is a "compelling state interest" exception to constitutional rights in the US.

    It's why we have DUI stops on the highway which presume guilt in the driver, who has to prove s/he is not drunk.

    It's why someone who orders a drink is not presumed to be of legal age until they prove it affirmatively, etc.

    "The Constitution is not a suicide pact."

    When there is a compelling state interest, what would otherwise be unconstitutional, isn't. Whether or not this rises to that level is a separate debate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Cdaragorn (profile), 28 Dec 2018 @ 11:54am

      Re:

      "Compelling state interests" have nothing to do with the rights defined in the constitution. They have to do with the general law-making process. If a law violates a constitutional right, no "compelling state interest" is ever high enough to justify that law.

      Even your attempt to give examples falls flat when you actually walk through them. The DUI example is dead the minute you recognize that an officer must have observed you driving in a manner that leaves reason to suspect you may be drunk. This gives the officer probable cause which allows them to move past some of your rights. This is you giving up your rights, not the state being given freedom to take them from you.

      Your second example doesn't even deal with any constitutional right and is therefore not worth discussing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2018 @ 4:24pm

      Re:

      When there is a compelling state interest, what would otherwise be unconstitutional, isn't.

      That is the mantra of authoritarians everywhere, and leads to the state determining everything that citizens can do, and what the state will do tho those who do not conform to the states ideals..

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2018 @ 10:23am

    "What's up with India?"

    Election season.

    Just like the recent ban on online retailers having a "conflict of interest" when selling goods to a market clearly not upset as much as the local shops who lose out are.

    "Laws" make people feel better, even if they're ridiculous.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2018 @ 10:35am

    Just the latest in the global movement to put the genie back in the bottle.

    First Australia, now India and coming soon to the US!

    The thing is, these governments/security agencies on some level KNOW this is going to harm citizens but they don't care because transparency for thee, not for me.

    They don't care that as soon as a vulnerability is introduced it will be found and used by those with malicious intent or that by having breakable encryption or forcing companies to make backdoors makes EVERYONE less safe.

    The actual experts keep yelling but they keep being ignored.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 27 Dec 2018 @ 2:42pm

    Dear India,

    Perhaps you shoudl focus on real problems like men raping young women on trains, buses, the street that has been happening for decades & your system fails the victims over and over before deciding you need to control the internet.

    Oh darn a Bollywood movie got leaked so we blocked 90% of the internet in India to protect it... but a young woman is raped as 30 people watch but we can't do anything about that.

    Perhaps you are busy focusing on things that don't benefit your citizens & trying to grab more special powers you think will solve everything... as another girl is raped & then ignored by the police.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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