Draft rules prepared by the Centre propose to make it mandatory for online platforms to help the government trace the origin of “unlawful content” whenever requested by authorities, The Indian Express reported on Monday. This, in effect, will require platforms to break end-to-end encryption of data, including WhatsApp messages, the newspaper said.

The draft, which would amend rules under the Information Technology Act, seek to make it mandatory for platforms to disable access to “unlawful” content within 24 hours of receiving a government or legal order. They also propose that such platforms be asked to use technology to proactively identify and block such content themselves.

The rules would make it mandatory for platforms with more than 50 lakh users to make information about such content and its origin available to government agencies within 72 hours of a request being made.

An official of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on Friday discussed the draft with Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Amazon, Yahoo, Twitter, ShareChat, Securities and Exchange Board of India and The Internet Service Providers Association of India, the newspaper said. The ministry asked the platforms to respond to the draft by January 7.

The amendments are proposed in the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011, which were issued under the Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000.

Key revisions proposed in the draft:

  • The draft rules propose to make it mandatory for online platforms to “deploy technology-based automated tools or appropriate mechanisms, with appropriate controls, for proactively identifying and removing or disabling access to unlawful information or content”.
  • The draft asks platforms to remind its users every month that it has the right to immediately revoke access or remove “non-compliant information” in case of breach of rules and user policies.
  • One proposed rule asks platforms to give information or assistance within 72 hours of communication from “any government agency”. The government may also ask for “assistance concerning security of the state or cyber security”, or it may concern “investigation or detection or prosecution or prevention of offences”. The platform will then “enable tracing out of such originator of information on its platform”, which, in effect, will require platforms to break end-to-end encryption of data, including WhatsApp messages, according to The Indian Express.
  • Platforms would also need to appoint a “nodal person of contact” in India for “24x7 coordination with law enforcement agencies and officers”, if the draft is approved.
  • Platforms will keep a record of “unlawful activity” for a period of “180 days” instead of 90 days in the original rules.

Apar Gupta, co-founder of The Internet Freedom Foundation, told The Indian Express: “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. All these proposals are being discussed secretly without any public consultation.”

Gupta said the “recent government measures” are taking India close to a “Chinese model of censorship”.

The meeting of the ministry official with representatives of online platforms took place a day after a government order had authorised 10 central agencies to monitor, intercept, and decrypt “any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer”.