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National Security and Freedom Equally Important: Ravi Shankar Prasad on Encryption Policy

File photo of Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

File photo of Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

The Minister says there will be 'meaningful consultations' before drafting a new encryption policy.

More than six months after the draft encryption policy was withdrawn, and amidst criticism that the process is opaque, Communication and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has defended his ministry saying consultations don’t have to be "with a million people".

Speaking exclusively to CNN-News18's Marya Shakil, Prasad refused to commit to a timeline for the policy. He also said end-to-end encryption is the prerogative of the platforms, and not of the government.

CNN-News18: Now that WhatsApp has come up with an end-to-end encryption, what is the Department of Telecom’s next move?

Ravi Shankar Prasad: It is entirely the initiative of WhatsApp to safeguard its own content. Now as regards to its implications, I have asked my ministry to look into the matter. But don’t forget one thing -- whether to have the encryption, or not to have the encryption, is entirely the initiative of the platform and not that of the government.

CNN-News18: How do you plan to track down law-and-order issues if criminals use WhatsApp, the law enforcement agencies might find it difficult with this end-to-end encryption?

Ravi Shankar Prasad: As far as end-to-end encryption is concerned, surely the issue of terrorism and concerns of national security will have to be viewed differently. I think the law and order machinery will surely have the mechanism to take appropriate steps, as far as locating those criminals who are abusing ICT is concerned. If in a very specific overriding case, after complying with legal procedure, if you seek the help of DoT on a case-by-case basis, we can consider it.

CNN-News18: If you are planning to intervene and ban such services, do you see an FBI vs Apple kind of stand-off on this issue?

Ravi Shankar Prasad: I don’t see that at all. What’s important is the cyber security issue, we are looking at in a holistic manner, by enforcing the entire infrastructure having coordination centre. I don’t think that issue will come up in a way it has in America. But yes my larger take is always that ICT is one of the finest stations of human mind. While we fully support an open, plural, democratic inclusive internet, we have to ensure that a few people shouldn’t abuse it for terror.

CNN-News18: Last time we spoke, you had said that you are coming up with a new encryption policy, What’s the status?

Ravi Shankar Prasad: That’s under consultation process. Once the consultation is complete, surely we will take a view on it.

CNN-News18: Are you planning to have public consultation on that?

Ravi Shankar Prasad: I have asked the department to work on that, because these issues are always decided with the widest consultation possible, that’s my view. Even in the case of I-CANN internet governance model, India has constantly supported the multi-stakeholder model. Multi stakeholder means the industry, the academia, people, civil society and the government.

CNN-News18: In case of net neutrality you did have wider public consultations, why is it in case of encryption policy the department is functioning in an opaque manner?

Ravi Shankar Prasad: I differ with you on that. It’s all in the process. Let’s await the process; there is no opaqueness about it. When I say consultations, there will be meaningful consultations. A consultation doesn’t mean you have to go to millions of people.

CNN-News18: Are we looking at some timeline here sir?

Ravi Shankar Prasad: My department is working on it. This encryption policy must be a sound policy, and a policy which must reflect upon conflicting and competing needs. Therefore, as a government we have also to come out, while we fully safeguard the growth and prolific expansion of the internet and right to access. We must remember that an internet is genuinely available only when it is safe and secure.

CNN-News18: Are issues of national security primary on your mind?

Ravi Shankar Prasad: Well they are, after all a lot of these terrorist activities partake the platform of ICT. Why not? Therefore national security is important, freedom is equally important, we have to find a blend.

Listen to the complete interview:

Marya Shakil
Associate Political Editor, CNN-NEWS18This is the first of CNN-News18’s Digital First series, which will feature exclusive reportage, analyses and opinions only on News18’s digital platform. Send your feedback to editor@news18.com.

first published:April 18, 2016, 20:01 IST