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Meity says no proposal presently to tap WhatsApp messages

Meity junior Minister SS Ahluwalia said govt has powers to do such snooping if need arises

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NEW DELHI: Though the Indian government continues to explore avenues to track digital footprints of the citizens and regulations for online media, it said on Wednesday it did not plan at present to tap people’s WhatsApp messages.

“No sir,” was the reply given by junior Minister SS Ahluwalia at the Ministry of Electronics and Information and Technology (Meity) when asked specifically whether the government planned to snoop into WhatsApp messages of individuals.

However, Ahluwalia clarified that though the government respects an individual’s human rights, as enshrined in declarations of the United Nations, it has the powers to intercept or monitor digital information under various circumstances, including security reasons.

“Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 empowers government to  issue direction for interception or monitoring or decryption of information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource in the interest of (i) sovereignty and integrity of India (ii) defence of India (iii) security of the State (iv) friendly relations with foreign States (v) public order (vi) for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above, or (vii) for investigation of any offence,” the Minister stated in Parliament to a query on whether any proposed move to tap WhatsApp messages would violate global conventions set by organisations such as the UN.

To another query from a fellow parliamentarian, Ahluwalia said the Ministry doesn’t have any proposal at present to create a platform

where a citizen can identify fake news or hoaxes, which are rampant these days in the country.

The Minister, though, listed various government initiatives to make citizens aware of fake news on digital and social media. He said government agencies have been highlighting the importance of “following ethics” while using the internet and issuing general advisories against sharing rumours and fake news.

“Government has also asked WhatsApp to convey various steps taken by them to deal with fake news and also to share learning material to

educate the same,” the Minister stated.

Still, his senior at Meity who also happens to be the Law Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad is on record favouring evolving a policy to control the spread of fake news in India.

Last month, Department of Telecoms, on a request from Meity, had written to all telecom and internet service providers , along with other industry organisations, requesting suggestions on ways that can help the government block under special circumstances social media content on platforms like the Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. The proposal has been criticised by many, including a chamber of commerce, Assocham.

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