End-to-end encryption is giving Governments across the world a massive headache to battle crime and terrorism, and India is facing the same issue too. With the recent battle between the FBI and Apple where encryption of the data on the iPhone was a big issue, WhatsApp and other messaging platforms are enabling encryption to safeguard the privacy of their users. Though encrypting messages may be a great option where hackers and the government cannot snoop on the user’s private lives, this causes a huge issue when the police have to crack into messages that are passed on using this channel to protect its citizens.
In India, an encryption of up to 40-bit is considered legal and services that are implementing this type of encryption have to register with the government. Those who are using higher encryption are presently in the gray area, and so is the case with WhatsApp. Hence, indirectly, WhatsApp is presently illegal in India, but there are no guidelines as yet in the country which can ban them for now.
However, an RTI activist from Gurgaon, Sudhir Yadav, has filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a complete ban on the messaging platform WhatsApp. The petition comes after WhatsApp enabled every messages with the 256-bit encryption, which cannot be broken into. Even if WhatsApp was asked to break through an individual’s message to handover the data to the Government, they too would fail as they don’t have the decryption keys either.
Trak reported that the RTI petition was filed under the registration number DOTEL/R/2016/50413 (they hold the copy of the petition too).
According to the report, Sudhir wants to ban WhatsApp because they havde decided to encrypt all messages that get exchanged on the platform. He also said that any terrorist can safely chat on WhatsApp and make plans to harm the country and the Indian intelligence agencies would not be able to tap them to take necessary actions.
According to the petition, Sudhir mentions that in order to decrypt any message on WhatsApp, you would need a whopping 115,792,089,237,316,195,423,570,985,008,687,907,853,269,984,665,640,564,039,457,584,007,913,129,639,935 key combinations, which is almost impossible for any super computer. Decrypting a single 256-bit encrypted message, according to him, would take trillions of years.
Sudhir has also mentions that messaging platforms such as Hike, Secure Chat, Viber and a few others are also in the same zone for high encryption and causing national threat.
Sudhir had written letters to TRAI and Ministry of Communications and IT (according to Trak), before filing this petition, but received no reply in return.
Brazil is also facing a similar issue and a judge has managed to ban WhatsApp for 72 hours. If WhatsApp is proven illegal in India (according to the Information Technology Act, 2000), the Supreme Court bench would take a decision soon.
Also read: How to use WhatsApp if it gets banned
We too think that the new encryption will pose national security issues if the messaging platform is used for terrorism. However, the common man is sandwiched with the issue and will suffer the consequences because of governments snooping into private lives without consent. If the government and intelligent agencies were to make the rules much ahead of time that encryption should be under the said limits and intelligence snooping would be a requirement by law, this issue would not have been the case today.
However, there are other platforms in which terrorists can safely communicate. The dark internet and bad hackers are well known with many tools that can encrypt messages at higher levels. Using VPN and TOR networking can also be chosen for using these encrypted messaging platforms.
Banning WhatsApp, Viber, Hike and many other encrypted messaging networks would not settle the issue, but could give an additional boost to the dark internet.
What do you think the government should do? Should WhatsApp be banned in the name of national security? Or should WhatsApp cut down their encryption to lower levels in order to help nations combat crime and terrorism? Is privacy more important than national security?
What is your suggestion? Pen down your opinion in the comments below....