Proposed Rules To Crack Down On Fake News Won’t Break Encryption: Centre

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The government has invited comments from the public on the draft guidelines

New Delhi:

The proposed amendments to the draft intermediary guidelines made with a view to make social media safer and crack down on fake new will not compromise encryption of the data being exchanged, the Electronics and Information Technology Ministry has said.

Amid concerns among privacy watchers, the ministry on Twitter clarified that it only asks to "trace origin of messages which lead to unlawful activities without breaking encryption".

The clarification comes amid concerns that the amendments may ask social platforms such as WhatsApp, which uses end-to-end encryption to secure communication between people, to open up its privacy systems. In end-to-end encryption, only the sender and the recipient can access the messages.

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The government has invited comments from the public on the draft guidelines before January 15. The ministry's officials met legal and cyber security experts to discuss the amendments on Saturday.

Last month, as questions were raised about an attack on freedom of speech and expression, the government said in a statement that the new rules had been proposed to check the misuse of social media platforms and the spread of fake news.

"A number of lynching incidents were reported in 2018, mostly alleged to be because of fake news/rumours being circulated through WhatsApp and other social media sites," the government had said in a statement defending its move.

Changes proposed under Section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) Act require online platforms to "deploy technology based automated tools or appropriate mechanisms to "proactively identify or remove or disable access to unlawful information or content".

The government suggests a monthly notification to warn users repeatedly and a "traceability requirement", which means breaking end-to-end encryption and introducing systems for retaining data and information including WhatsApp messages.

Companies like WhatsApp have reportedly expressed their unwillingness to break end-to-end encryption because that would damage uniqueness of their platform. To which, the government clarified that it only wants to know the source of mischievous messages, even if that meant using other options to track down hate messages.

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