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Policy on unlocking cellphone data overdue, say experts

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Cyber Security

Mansi Taneja  |  New Delhi 

Cyber security: Israel wants joint ecosystem with India

Apple's battle with the US government over accessing information locked in iPhones has ramifications in India as well.

Experts said Indian government agencies could intercept calls and data at 128 bit encryption, but most current telecommunication systems used 256 or 512 bit encryption. Banks and e-commerce firms use much higher encryption.

"The issue had come up a few years ago with BlackBerry when the government had sought encryption keys. The government needs to finalise an encryption policy and make it a law. This is important for cyber security," an expert in this domain said on condition of anonymity.

SECURING YOUR DATA
  • Experts said Indian government agencies could intercept calls and data at 128 bit encryption
  • All encrypted information, including emails, messages and data stored on private business servers, can be accessed by the government
  • The draft policy asks all creators of encryption codes to register with the government, which will notify standardised algorithms for encryption
  • More than 50 companies from US and Israel are talking to Indian IT firms for tie-ups
  • India to monitor communication between terror modules, block content meant for radicalising youths

According to a draft policy released last September, all encrypted information, including emails, messages and data stored on private business servers, can be accessed by the government. It also asks users to store all encrypted communication for at least 90 days and make it available to security agencies, if required, in text form along with the encryption keys.


The draft policy asks all creators of encryption codes to register with the government, which will notify standardised algorithms for encryption.

However, the draft was withdrawn within a few days after a furore over invasion of privacy. The government then said social media would be exempted from the policy's purview.

"We are still in the process of revising the draft. It will be put in the public domain for suggestions soon," an official from the information technology ministry said.

An executive with a telecom company said voice calls made over WhatsApp and Skype could not be intercepted because they did not come under any licensing regime.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, minister for communications and information technology, had earlier said the government was working on a new regulatory framework for lawful interception and monitoring of telephone calls and messages.

His ministry is also consulting the home ministry over issues related to interception by security agencies.

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First Published: Wed, February 24 2016. 00:18 IST
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