Will Indians have to bid bye to end-to-end encryption with Centre’s latest social media regulations?
Did you migrate to Signal because WhatsApp wasn’t private enough for you? Did you find a nice Telegram group to snuggle in because the Facebook groups seemed to be under close monitoring? The answer might be a big yes for those who are seeking true privacy and end-to-end encryption away from the lies that “big corporates” have been selling you. Well, things are about to change.
Welcome, India’s new social media rules, which demand, among many other things, the “first originator” of a problematic message. The government authorities rationalise that since the problematic message is easy to discover, its creator remains elusive and thus it is important to know who that is. The government doesn’t “care about the rest of the chat history” as they only want the first originator. That makes sense, right? However, it is not that simple.
The first originator almost always comes from a social media platform, and often hidden behind the encrypted services that these media provide, including Facebook messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal and many others. Therefore, to identify who sent the first message, then the media platform will have to constantly be tracking your messages, whereby cancelling the end-to-end encryption and much-valued privacy.
According to the Supreme Court of India, privacy is a fundamental right. However, the government is subverting that idea by claiming that the right to speech is extended to social media, and then it should be held under reasonable restrictions, which can only be imposed by tracking the content. The social media intermediaries are stuck in a chicken-egg situation where they have no clue how to go about it when the rules come into effect three months from now.
On the other hand, sometimes you might not need to break end-to-end encryption to find the first originator, since most user backup their chats. Once they are on the cloud, then encryption no longer applies, and thus they could be accessed by anyone. See, it is not that bad after all, well, at least, end-to-end encryption will be there, right?
Regardless, the removal of end-to-end encryption is essential, since with it the intermediaries can’t track messages, and if you need to find the first originator, then tracking is essential. The government also adds that the first originator will be sought only for crimes that have a punishment of five years or more, and for threats to national security, sovereignty, public order and other such knickknacks mentioned in Section 69 of the IT Act. Everything considered, social media is hopeful that they can find some balance with the government within three months, while internet freedom sceptics are not so much.