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Govt withdraws draft of encryption policy

 NEW DELHI, Sept 22 - Beating a hasty retreat amid a massive public outcry, the government today withdrew the controversial draft policy that sought to make it mandatory for everyone to store all mobile and social media messages, including on WhatsApp, for 90 days.

The draft encryption policy required businesses, telcos and Internet companies to store all encrypted data for 90 days in plain text so that the same could be shared with the law enforcement agencies whenever asked. Failing to do so would have attracted legal action.

After a huge uproar over the proposed move, Telecom and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad today said a revised policy will be placed in the public domain after reworking some of the “expressions” that gave rise to “misgivings”.

As the draft was criticised on social media and by opposition parties as a threat to privacy, the government clarified this morning through a new addendum that the social media sites, including WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, payment gateways, e-commerce and password-based transactions were exempt from the policy.

Hours later, the government, however, decided to withdraw the entire draft encryption policy.

At a post-Cabinet press briefing, Prasad said that the draft National Encryption Policy was not the final view of the government and was placed in the public domain just to seek comments and suggestions from people.

“I wish to make it very clear that it is just a draft and not the view of the government. But I have noted some of the concerns expressed by certain enlightened segments of the public. I have personally seen that some of the expressions used in the draft are giving rise to uncalled-for misgivings,” he said.

“Therefore, I have written to the Department of Electronics and IT to withdraw that draft, rework it properly and thereafter, put in the public domain for comments,” he said.

He stressed that common users would not come under the ambit of the encryption policy that will be framed. The new draft to be issued will clearly state which services and creators it would apply to and which ones will be exempt.

The issue still gave a handle to the opposition to attack the government with Congress saying its intent stands “exposed” and the “hasty retreat” reestablished the strength of ‘democratic dissent’ over “Tuglaki farmans” (diktats).

The CPI-M dubbed the draft as ‘Gujarat Snooping Model’, while the Aam Aadmi Party said it was a tool for “snooping” and reflected the government’s “totalitarian inclination.” – PTI

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