Considering the current state of unaccountability with our government, government’s access to encryption keys and backdoor access inevitably leads to abuse.
You’re probably going “that’s too far fetched”, is it really?
Last year, the government caused a huge ruckus by releasing a draft National Encryption Policy (NEP), with people calling it draconian. It was in fact draconian in nature. The policy expected businesses to hand over the encryption keys and access to communication logs in plain text for 90 days, raising concerns over privacy and free speech.
While the government withdrew it immediately, it opened up a dialogue among the different stakeholders about the necessities for an NEP and the issues facing it. On one hand, some claim that having a encryption policy sets a standard, which will strengthen our cyber-infrastructure and increase foreign investments. On the other had, some think there shouldn’t be any encryption policy, we should just let the market figure that out by itself.
Either way, why does the government want it? The government remains vague as to why it really needs access to encryption keys or backdoors. The general narrative is likely along the lines of the need for real time surveillance for preventing terrorism and cyber crime, and enhancing our national security.
But, whats really at stake here? Enhancing policing tactics in exchange for what? We live in an opportunistic society, where breaking laws and cutting corners saying ‘chalta hai’ is the norm. If you don’t follow this norm, a few glaring eyes and smirks abound. It would be naive to think that this doesn’t reflect within our government system, especially within the police system. More troubling is that we not only lack the “right to privacy” in our constitution, but also lack proper oversight architecture that holds the government and its employees accountable when it comes to abuse and corruption. The bad apples are most likely to abuse the access and get away with it scotch free. Hence, given the access and easy surveillance, it is inevitable that this government or the next will abuse it to get rid of opposition and enhance its power, eventually moving towards an authoritarian regime. There is no guarantee against it.
Where is the balance? How can the government investigate and prevent crime without the use encryption keys or backdoor access?
Few things it can do is improve other strategies in preventing terrorism and crime. Stronger Human Intelligence network for instance is a great tactic and provides real time access. Other approach can be to request live monitoring access, via a special court, on terrorist groups or crime syndicates that pose a real threat. Sure, this may not be as good as having instant access, but that’s a trade-off the government has to make to maintain society’s trust with its governance.
Puru Naidu (@Brocolli88) is a Research Analyst at the Takshashila Institution.