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Proposed changes to intermediary guidelines will put digital India’s future at risk: ISOC

The content filtering requirements in India’s proposed intermediary guidelines to curb online misinformation and illegal content, will “put the security of the Internet and its users, and the future of a digital India at greater risk,” the Internet Society (ISOC) said in an open letter to India’s IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. The letter, which has 27 signatories, said that making intermediaries liable for monitoring communications “would limit the use of end-to-end encryption and encourage others to weaken existing security measures”. ISOC has also urged the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) “reconsider” the current proposed amendments and protect India’s Internet economy and users, by supporting the use of end-to-end encryption.

Traceability requirement will weaken everyone’s security: End-to-end encrypted communication platforms, such as WhatsApp and Signal, cannot “provide the level of monitoring required in the proposed amendments”. Under the current proposed amendments to the rules, intermediaries must enable tracing of the originator of the information on their platform.

“Whether it’s through putting a “backdoor” in an encryption protocol, storing cryptographic keys in escrow, adding silent users to group messages, or some other method, there is no way to create “exceptional access” for some without weakening the security of the system for all.” — ISOC in the open letter.

Apart from protecting people and the economy on the Internet, encryption also secures web  browsing, online banking, and critical public services like e-government services, electricity, hospitals and transportation, the letter said. It added that more than 400 million people in India use end-to-end encrypted messaging services for communicating, and engaging in business.

“As the Intermediaries Guidelines highlights, intermediaries should “take all reasonable measures to secure [their] computer resources and information contained therein.” — ISOC in the open letter.

Current proposals will affect Indian companies as well: The letter said that the proposed amendments might reduce the trust that consumers have on Indian products. It said that Indian companies might feel “compelled” to weaken strong encryption on their services or fail to implement the technology at all. This would, in turn, jeopardise the success of Indian products and services globally.

“India has the potential to be a world leader in the global digital economy, but only if consumers trust the products and services provided by its companies. In a global market, trust can make or break a decision to go with an Indian product or service, rather than a well-established competitor from North America or Europe.” — ISOC in the open letter.

Wikimedia Foundation has also expressed concerns on the proposed changes: This open letter comes days after the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit group that operates Wikipedia, had written to the IT Minister expressing concerns over the impact the proposed amendments would potentially have on Wikipedia’s open editing model. The Foundation had urged MeitY to make the latest changes to intermediary rules public and seek comments from concerned stakeholders.

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