IT rules compliance must—government sends a clear signal | #socialmedia | #cybersecurity | #infosecurity | #hacker

The Centre is in the process of sending notices to companies that are yet to comply with the country’s revised intermediary guidelines, including some encrypted platforms like Signal, top officials told ET. Letters will also be sent to other firms that have not replied to the government’s queries on their compliance status following the implementation of the IT rules on May 26.

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.

iMessage Exempted

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.

Given that the new IT rules 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 compliance proof.

Signal and Apple did not respond to ET’s email.

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.

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.

After WhatsApp announced the rollout of its new privacy policy earlier this year, apps like Signal and Telegram gained traction as users moved to these platforms with mounting fear that WhatsApp could share user information with Facebook.

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