Days after Union Home Ministry’s ‘snooping order’, there are reports that the Narendra Modi government is looking to amend the Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, which will break the end-to-end encryption and empower the government agencies to access ‘unlawful’ content. According to an Indian Express report, there was a meeting held on Friday last week between government officials and the executives of major online giants such as Google, Twitter and WhatsApp among others. If the amendments are made, the online companies would be liable to reply to government within 72 hours.
The report says that the companies have been given time till January 7 to come up with their plan on government’s new request. “The draft rules have been shared with us, and we will issue a detailed analysis. But 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,” Apar Gupta, lawyer and co-founder of The Internet Freedom Foundation was quoted as saying.
The report about the crucial amendment in the Section 79 of the IT Act comes after Modi government reportedly granting sweeping powers to 10 central agencies to intercept, monitor and decrypt information stored in any computer. According to MHA: “Rule 4 of IT (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Info) Rules'09 provides that the authority may authorise a government agency to intercept, monitor or decrypt information generated, transmitted or stored in any computer for purpose specified in the Act.”
However, later government clarified the so called ‘snooping order.’ The Ministry of Home Affairs clarified that no new powers have been conferred to any of the security or law enforcement to intercept, monitor and decrypt information stored in any computer, adding that each case of interception, monitoring, decryption is to be approved by the Union home secretary.
The Intelligence Bureau, Narcotics Control Bureau, Enforcement Directorate, Central Board of Direct Taxes, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, CBI, National Investigation Agency, Cabinet Secretariat (R&AW), Directorate of Signal Intelligence (in Jammu and Kashmir, North-East and Assam only) and the Delhi Police Commissioner are the agencies allowed by the home ministry to snoop any computer.