Make public draft amendments to IT Act, Congress tells Modi

New Delhi: The Congress on Monday expressed alarm and targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the Centres proposed amendment to the Information Technology (IT) Act that seeks to break ‘end-to-end encryption of data and mandate online platforms to give user information to the government within 72 hours.

The proposed amendment, the ‘The Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules] 2018,’ has been publicised by New Delhi-based digital advocacy organisation Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF).

The draft rules mandate online platforms to provide information or assistance within 72 hours of receiving it from “any government” and also require end-to-end encryption be broken so that the origins of messages can be traced.

The draft rules also increase the data retention period from 90 to 180 days and provide for further discretionary retention on the discretion of “government agencies”.

Accusing the Modi government of trying to create a “surveillance state”, the Congress demanded placing the draft amendments in public domain for public consultation.

“Violating privacy of people has become the norm of the Modi government and the proposed amendments which were discussed behind closed doors are yet another step towards cementing and reaffirming the concept of an image of an Orwellian state,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi told the media.

Pointing to reports of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) “confidentially” discussing the proposed rules representatives of Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, and other online platforms, Singhvi questioned the Modi government’s motive behind “privately discussing” on how to censor and break encryption of private data, social media, emails, messages and calls.

The reports of the proposed amendment come days after the Centre on Dec 20 empowered Central investigating and intelligence agencies to snoop on all computers.

“The intermediary shall enable tracing out of such originator of information on its platform as may be required by government agencies who are legally authorised,” reads the Draft rule 3(5) which in implemented will require an online platform to break end-to-end encryption of data including WhatsApp messages.

Singhvi said if the amendments are implemented, the Modi government will hold the key to both personal and professional data of all sections completely erasing fundamental right to privacy.

“From a journalist whose sources for a particular story can now be traced to an opposition leader, all shall now be open to government scrutiny.

“Be it bureaucrats/officers, who do not often toe the ruling political party’s line or be it businessmen whose ease of doing business shall now be hampered by harassment or be it ordinary citizens whose private conversations shall now become a de-crypted file in the government’s offices,” added Singhvi.