Whatsapp with that? Indian telecoms ministry forced into embarrassing climbdown

Story highlights

  • India attempts to put its encryption policy up for review; it is publicly lambasted
  • Ministry says it was just a draft; has ordered it reviewed

New Delhi (CNN)India has withdrawn proposals that would have empowered security agencies to monitor private chats on social media and mobile messaging services, if enforced.

India had been preparing its encryption policies to meet the requirements of its Information Technology (IT) Act. The nation's IT law authorizes the central government to prescribe "modes or methods for encryption" aimed at digital security.
    According to the Data Security Council of India (DSCI), the country's present levels of encryption are weak. "The government, however, has legitimate need to access encrypted data for monitoring of suspected criminals and terrorists in what is considered a lawful interception," it says.
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    But the proposed policy has been slammed by a cross-section of Indian social media users, who see it as an infringement on the privacy of ordinary citizens -- not to mention business confidentiality -- by mandating that they be required to store all their online communication for social media and messaging apps like WhatsApp in plain text for 90 days.

    Subject of ire

    On Tuesday, India's telecommunications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad announced withdrawal of the policy after it triggered an online backlash.
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    "I wish to make it clear that it is just a draft," he told a news conference. He admitted that the proposals implicating unencrypted communications on social media platforms were causing "uncalled-for misgivings."
    "Therefore, I have written to DeitY [India's federal IT department] to withdraw that draft, rework it properly and thereafter put it on the public domain for comments," Prasad said.

    "Encryption necessary"

    However, he maintained that India does need a national encryption policy aimed at strengthening information security in the country.
    For now, the controversial proposals stand withdrawn.
    "DeitY has noted public sentiments viz-a-viz this draft. It is, hereby, clarified that the draft is not the final view of the government on the matter," a ministry statement said Tuesday.
    "DeitY has also taken note of the ambiguity in some portions of the draft that may have led to misgivings. Hence, the a draft has been withdrawn and will be put up for consultation after appropriate revision," it added.
    Last month, the Indian government briefly banned adult content websites in the name of "morality." It reversed the decision after facing heavy criticism for the attempt at online censorship.

    Social media backlash

    India's twitter users were quick to criticize and, in some cases, respond with sarcasm.