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Govt considering developing ‘sarkari’ WhatsApp; our take

The Indian government is considering developing a “sarkari” version of WhatsApp and other homegrown secure communication networks for communication between different government bodies and agencies, reports the Economic Times. The idea behind such an insular communication tool and network is due to strategic and security reasons stemming from geopolitical developments, according to a government official. Washington’s sanctions against Huawei has left New Delhi deeply concerned and the government feels the need to communicate only over secure and indigenously developed networks. The thinking in the government is that in the case the US finds India to be “unreliable” they might direct their companies to slow down networks in India. If that happens, the government fears that things might come to a standstill since government officers “use their private emails, etc”. The official also said that all communication and data transmitted over those networks will be 100% stored in India.

The official also informed ET that for now, all government to government communication should begin on the indigenously developed platform which can then be extended to all communication between the government and citizens.

Taking cues from France and China

Interestingly, India isn’t the first country to think of a communication tool specifically for government use. France launched its Tchat app in April this year that is developed exclusively for official communication by government officers. The need to have a government-only chat app in France arose because the President relied on the usage of Telegram for communication and security experts believed that it was prone to hackers around the world.

The Chinese government reportedly use customised versions of popular chat apps that have been developed specifically for communication between government officials.

What this means

What would remain of paramount importance in case the government actually develops such a tool, is to see if it manages to muster enough expertise and talent in developing this sarkari WhatsApp and keeping it safe from hackers. There are lessons to be learnt from the government’s failed outing in developing the BOSS operating system across computers and laptops in government agencies and offices and the roadblocks remain clear – talent, budget and expertise in developing a potent enough app that can actually be used for government communication.

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It’s worth noting that even WhatsApp faced a spyware attack – in May this year, it urged users to upgrade the app to the latest version, and ensure that their mobile operating system was up to date, to protect themselves against a vulnerability which used the WhatsApp calling feature to compromise user devices – and the government would be better off communicating on a homegrown chat app. Having said that, for now at least, it seems that the government is aware of issues that might create problems in governance.

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