Decluttering the Encryption Debate in India

·2 min read

Dual use technologies like encryption has always been a catch-up game. The nature of cryptography is such that while technologies of encryption enhance, so does that of decryption. End-to-end encryption technology is not just a protocol for secure messaging but a foundation for many services of the future to ensure cybersecurity. It is for these reasons that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India after years of stakeholder consultation recommended that the security architecture of end-to-end encrypted platforms should not be tinkered with. The same has been recommended by independent cybersecurity experts and international organizations.

For the latest edition of the #SecDevTalks hosts an expert panel of an internationally respected Cryptographer Dr. Matthew D. Green, Former Secretary in the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology Secretary Dr. Aruna Sharma, and Former Special Director of the Intelligence Bureau Mr. Yashovardhan Azad.

Dr. Green’s paper which he co-authored with 14 renowned cryptographers of the world titled ‘Keys under doormats’ is a go to document for understanding the challenges associated with backdoors to encryption. Speaking about the encryption technology itself Dr. Green added, “End to end encryption is the best tool we have because every other tool we have built has been broken repeatedly”. When asked about his opinion on the backdoors to encryption and traceability he explained, “We barely know how to build exceptional occasional access systems whereas the real time scanning systems are essentially a form of mass surveillance.”

Dr. Sharma concurred with the opinions of Dr. Green and acknowledged the important role encryption plays in keeping user security and privacy intact. She noted “There is a complete dichotomy of the co-existence of end to end encryption and traceability, which the technology will have to balance.” Highlighting the importance of appreciating the encryption technology she added that, “developing end-to-end encryption is a non-negotiable. It is also very important to have a uniform body in the country which not only understands, learns and updates end-to-end encryption methods but also develops the capability to detect and undertake action during emergency.”

Having served at the Intelligence Bureau and then at the Central Information Commission, Mr Azad experienced the importance of both national security and transparency very closely. Highlighting the importance of appreciating this delicate balance he pointed out that, “Patrolling the internet space, mass surveillance is not going to be of any kind of gain that the government needs, it is equivalent to researching for a needle in a haystack”. He added that, “the law enforcement agencies have to develop their technical capability and for developing that technical capability, one has to have more and more collaboration with tech companies”

You may also enjoy our previous #SecDevTalks with

  • Mr. PV Kumar (Former Chairman NTRO) on how strong should surveillance laws be: we are not offline, even when we think we are;
  • Mr. Yashovardhan Azad (Former Spl. Dir. Intelligence Bureau) on the need for strong encryption & robust data protection laws;
  • Dr Taher Elgamal (Father of SSL) on encryption: envisaging a privacy enabling national security regime & e-commerce ecosystem;
  • Prof. Debayan Gupta (Asst. Prof., Ashoka University), Mr. Udbhav Tiwari (Public Policy Fellow, Mozilla Foundation), & Mr. Anand Venkatanarayan (Independent Cybersecurity Expert) on how does encryption technology further both privacy & security.
  • This article is created on behalf of The Dialogue by the Studio18 team.

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