The Indian government might soon publish a set of controversial rules that could give it access to the identities of social networking and messaging app users.
According to Bloomberg, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology is expected to publish the new rules later this month without making major changes to previous drafts. If implemented as such, the rule is considered to be a massive invasion of the privacy of Indian citizens.
Under the rules, the government can compel social media platforms to reveal users’ identities without a warrant.
With this new rule, the Indian government will gain the authority to order social media companies including Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok to disclose the identities of users within 72 hours without a warrant or a judicial order.
If this rule gets implemented, social media giants will have to preserve user data records for at least 180 days. In addition, they will be forced to have a physical presence in the country and appoint “grievance officers” to address the queries of government agencies.
If the rules become official, they’ll cover all social media and messaging applications, though it’s unclear if the Indian government could also ask the companies for foreign users’ identities.
As privacy advocates warn, platforms would have to break their own end-to-end encryption and spy on their users to adhere to the new guidelines. India is reportedly the third-worst for privacy after China and Russia.
When the rules were first proposed, The Internet and Mobile Association of India, which represent Google, Facebook and Twitter, called them arbitrary and a “violation of the right to privacy recognized by the Supreme Court.”
“No country (other than India) is demanding such a broad level of traceability as envisaged by the Draft Intermediaries Guidelines,” says Software Freedom and Law Centre, a New Delhi-based digital advocacy organization regarding the matter.
The rule was first proposed back in December 2018. It received criticism and backlash from tech companies and experts in the subject. Notably, the Internet and Mobile Association of India called the proposal a “violation of the right to privacy recognized by the Supreme Court.”