Jio Backs Govt Over Tracing Origin Of Messages, Others Cite Privacy Issues

Backing the government effort to contain the spread of fake news, Reliance Jio has said it supports tracing the origin of messages, even if it means breaking encryption. Responding to a consultation paper on the subject, the Mukesh Ambani-controlled telco has told the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) that the government must take all steps to prevent misuse of technologies and platforms to spread fake news.

“Any proposal mandating the platform service providers to provide required information/assistance to law enforcement agencies is often protested on grounds of violation of speech and expression as provided in the Constitution… Such protests are without any basis and the government must ignore the same and address the emergent need to prevent reckless use of such technologies and platforms,” Jio said in its submission.

MeitY had in December proposed changes to Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, and had asked for public comments on the draft amendments that seek to regulate a set of companies that qualify as intermediaries. The definition of intermediary is quite broad and includes “any person who on behalf of another person receives, stores or transmits that message or provides any service with respect to that message”, MeitY said.

Among others, the proposed changes require an intermediary to provide access to the origin of a message within 72 hours of a government agency making a request for information.

Messaging platforms like WhatsApp, which rely on end-to-end encryption, have said tracing the origin of a message would mean breaking encryption and undermining user privacy. Encryption, or the practice of scrambling data to make it unintelligible for even the service providers, has been an important tool to prevent government snooping but has equally been abused for the spread of fake news.

While the telecom grouping Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) called the traceability requirement “deeply problematic from a privacy perspective,” the Ambani-owned firm took a very divergent view. Jio is a COAI member too but has made its recommendations separately unlike other telcos who have represented through the association.

Alluding to WhatsApp, Jio said such platforms are often “used by miscreants as channels for spreading fake news/rumors which can disturb peace and harmony or be a threat to national security. Hence it is imperative that law enforcement agencies should have control over such mediums to ensure originator of such information can be held accountable and national interest can be secured”.

Jio also has a messaging app called JioChat. The company had around 280 million subscribers at end-December and expects to cross 300 million by end-March. Like in the case of telcos, most technology companies- Indian and foreign- have made representations through their industry associations. Indian services industry’s view was put forward by Data Security Council of India (cybersecurity research arm of IT services industry lobby Nasscom). Wipro, however, made a separate submission.

Wipro said the draft rules requiring data retention of at least 180 days for investigative purposes, court or a government agency is a provision that “is not unreasonable and is within permissible limits”.

The Global Network Initiative, spearheaded by Google, also made a submission. The Internet and Mobile Association of India, which includes members like Facebook, Ola, AirBnB, Microsoft, Oracle, Amazon and Flipkart also made a strong pitch for revisiting provisions in the proposed rules.

A host of civil society and human rights organizations such as Centre for Internet and Society, Access Now, Amnesty International, Software Freedom Law Centre and Centre for Communication Governance under National Law University also presented their case.

Amazon Web Services, the cloud arm of Amazon, however, made a separate submission.

Other suggestions

Apart from large technology players and associations, voices from the music industry, e-cigarettes industry and even the Election Commission have reached MeitY.

The Commission wants a clause to be added to the proposed rules so they apply to “violation of any of the provisions of election law or/and directions of the Election Commission, during the period of any election.” The Indian music industry has sought stronger rules to prevent digital piracy of original content by fixing greater liability on intermediaries like YouTube.―Business Standard

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