Government suggests passing legislation to decrypt WhatsApp and Signal messages

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According to a new draught telecommunications bill posted late on Wednesday, the government has suggested a law to put the interception of encrypted over-the-top communication services (OTT) like WhatsApp and Signal inside a legal framework.

Telecommunication services are defined in the bill as services of any kind, such as broadcasting, electronic mail, voice mail, voice, video, and data communication services, audiotex, and videotex services, as well as fixed and mobile services, internet and broadband services, and satellite-based communication services.

Additionally, it comprises over-the-top (OTT) communication services, interpersonal communications services, machine-to-machine services, in-flight and marine connectivity services, internet-based communication services, and services for in-person and machine-to-machine communication.

Any additional service that the central government may declare to be a communications service may be added by the government. On the draught, the public has been asked for feedback.

Since the government defines messages as include “data stream or intelligence or information meant for telecommunication,” the interception will also include voice and video calls made over these applications.

If the measure is put into effect as written, it will have far-reaching effects for the sector of the economy that relies on the confidentiality and security of encrypted messages.

In accordance with section 24 of the draught, the central and state governments, or any officer specially authorised in this regard by the central or a state government, can act “on the occurrence of any public emergency or in the interest of the public safety” — if they believe it is necessary or expedient to do so, in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, or security of India, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, or preventing incitement to an offence, for justification

The section gives the government the authority to intercept calls and texts on platforms like WhatsApp and Signal that are encrypted, keeping them private between users in accordance with corporate policy.