Sources in the government said that while end-to-end encrypted platform Telegram has complied with the mandates laid out for significant social media intermediaries by “appointing necessary” officials, rival platform “Signal has not responded” to the letter sent by the ministry of electronics and IT ( Meity). Letters seeking confirmation of compliance were sent to all major technology companies in the last week of May, they added.
“Around 45 days have passed since the Rules came into being, we are corresponding with companies that have not replied or complied,” said a senior official.
Even as Signal has not responded to the government’s queries, officials said that enquiries have revealed that it is an open source platform. “They claim that they don’t have any source of revenue and the platform is run by a volunteer network. They do not have any organised company or structure. But, non-compliance cannot be there,” according to the person cited above.
Meanwhile, WhatsApp, the country’s most popular messaging app, has
challenged the IT Rules in the Delhi High Court by claiming that the mandate to trace the first originator of a message will require it to break its encryption and compromise user privacy.
The petition is yet to come up for hearing.
Officials pointed out that while Apple’s iMessage doesn’t qualify as a social media intermediary, the company that is best known as the maker of iPhone smartphones has been told to comply with the overall IT Rules. Exemption from compliance with mandates for significant social media intermediaries was provided as the messaging service is only available on Apple iPhones and is not a platform open to everyone, the official said.
Signal and Apple did not respond to ET’s request for queries over email.
Given that the new guidelines define significant social intermediaries as those with over five million users in India, there aren’t too many end-to-end encrypted platforms that are required to furnish proof of compliance. Of these, only Signal is yet to provide the required details, with Telegram having already complied as per official sources. WhatsApp is contesting the matter in court and Apple’s iMessage is not being regarded as a social media platform.
However, industry experts questioned what they regard as certain subjective interpretations in the country’s IT Rules itself.
“Will end to end messaging encryption be a @Apple only feature in India? Sounds odd, no? Almost like the IT Rules have subjective interpretations rather than clear, consistent legal standards,” Apar Gupta, executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation said on Twitter.
While the company has maintained that only information of business users will be shared, it has been pressured to first defer the policy and delay it till the centre brings in the Privacy Bill.
“Traceability – tracing first origin – is next to impossible without breaking end-to-end encryption. The alternative that independent experts have proposed, such as securely fingerprinting every block of text and recording the sender in a mega database, is not just challenging in terms of data and performance overheads but has severe privacy implications,” said Prasanto K Roy, who advises global firms on tech policy. He added that it is especially challenging since India has no privacy laws yet.