India government, Facebook spar over decryption laws at top court

India's flag is seen through a 3D printed Facebook logo in this illustration picture, April 8, 2019. (Reuters/ File Photo)
Updated 22 October 2019

India government, Facebook spar over decryption laws at top court

  • "They can't come into the country and say we will establish an non-decryptable system," Venugopal said, referring to big internet platforms
  • Facebook's lawyer told the court the company was not obliged to share users' data with the Indian government

NEW DELHI: India's government asked Facebook Inc on Tuesday to help it decrypt private messages on its network, citing national security requirements in a court hearing on privacy rights on social media platforms.
India's Attorney General K.K. Venugopal told the Supreme Court that it was the responsibility of social media companies to share data wherever there was a threat to national security.
"A terrorist cannot claim privacy," Venugopal said. "For Facebook and WhatsApp to say they cannot decrypt is not acceptable."
Facebook-owned WhatsApp, which has about 400 million users in India, allows groups of hundreds of users to exchange texts, photos and videos using end-to-end encryption, beyond the oversight of independent fact checkers or even the platform itself.
The government said in an affidavit it planned to frame new rules to govern social media "keeping in view the ever growing threats to individual rights and nation's integrity, sovereignty, and security."
"They can't come into the country and say we will establish an non-decryptable system," Venugopal said, referring to big internet platforms.
But Facebook's lawyer Mukul Rohtagi told the court the company was not obliged to share users' data with the Indian government.
The case went to the Supreme court after Facebook in August asked the top court to hear all cases concerning privacy and curbs on social media usage, local media reported.
WhatsApp has been trying to find ways to prevent its misuse, following concerns that the platform was being used to spread disinformation, but has said it will not dilute end-to-end encryption.
Rohtagi said local laws neither mandated companies to share data with government agencies, nor placed the onus of facilitating a process of decrypting messages on them.
"The rules say if I have the key, I could give the key. But I don't have the key myself," Rohtagi said, referring to Facebook or WhatsApp servers which are located outside of India.
The Supreme Court said it will now consolidate all pending cases on the issue from lower courts across the country and hear it beginning the last week of January.
Tushar Mehta, a lawyer for the government, said there was no intention to invade into personal lives of citizens, and India merely wanted to guard its citizens against extremism.
But Judge Deepak Gupta asked the government lawyers to explain why the onus of facilitating decryption should be on the social media companies. He said the law allows the government to seek help to decrypt, but does not suggest the companies do it for the government, he told Venugopal.
"Nobody prevents you from having your own system of decryption," Gupta said. 


US ‘cloud’ supremacy has Europe worried about data

Updated 8 min ago

US ‘cloud’ supremacy has Europe worried about data

PARIS: Europe is sitting on a wealth of data that is the 21st century equivalent of a precious metal mine during the gold rush.
But instead of exploiting it themselves Europeans may be allowing American tech giants to gain control of all the excavation equipment, some experts say, pointing to a flurry of European companies announcing deals with US tech players for cloud services.
Renault, Orange, Deutsche Bank, and Lufthansa recently plumped for Google Cloud. Volkswagen signed up with Amazon Web Services. The French health ministry chose Microsoft to house its research data.
The cloud is a term for offering data storage and processing services externally so clients don’t need to invest as much in costly gear.
This trend has sparked concern particularly in Germany, which has a rich trove of data thanks to its powerful industrial sector.
The EU is “losing its influence in the digital sphere at the moment it is taking a central role in the continent’s economy” warned a recent report by a group of experts and media leaders under the leadership of the former head of German software firm SAP, Henning Kagermann.
“The majority of European data is stocked outside of Europe, or, if stocked in Europe, is on servers that belong to non-European firms,” it noted.

A senior French official recently delivered an even more blunt assessment in a meeting with IT professionals.
“We have an enormous security and sovereignty issue with clouds” said the official at the meeting, which AFP attended on the condition of respecting the anonymity of participants.
“In many cases it is convenience or a sellout” by European companies and institutions “because it is simpler” to sign up with US tech giants than find European options, said the official.
“However we have very good firms offering cloud and data services,” he added.
One of the causes of concern for Europeans comes from the Cloud Act, a piece of legislation adopted in 2018 that gives US intelligence agencies access in certain cases to data hosted by US firms, no matter where the server may be physically located.
“My company is American and I know very well what the implications are of the legislation,” said a Franco-American executive.
“And given what is happening in US policy debates, that situation won’t be getting better.”
Beyond the integrity of data, it is the capacity to analyze and exploit that information that worries many European experts and policymakers.

If in Europe “we are just capable of generating data and need others to exploit it then we are going to end up in the same situation as countries with mineral resources that rely on others to process it and end up with meagre economic benefits,” said the French official.
The French and Germans unveiled in June the GAIA-X project that aims to develop a competitive European cloud offer.
Rather than encourage the development of a European champion — in the mold of Airbus in response to Boeing — that would offer the full gamut of services, the project takes a different tack.
It aims to set standards so different firms could offer storage, processing, security and artificial intelligence services seamlessly. It would operate as a marketplace of sorts where each client could find the services they need without having to leave European jurisdiction.
It is hoped GAIA-X’s decentralized model might prove a better fit with the issues raised by treatment of data from connected devices.