Uproar over Indian encryption law forces government to retreat

REPRESENTATIVE IMAGE: Servers for data storage are seen at Advania's Thor Data Center in Hafnarfjordur, Iceland August 7, 2015. REUTERS/Sigtryggur Ari/Files (Reuters)

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's government on Tuesday withdrew a draft law on encryption technology that critics called draconian and unworkable, after complaints from internet freedom activists risked marring Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Silicon Valley this weekend. The government is pushing to standardise usage of encryption software and force companies to share access to encrypted data with law enforcement agencies, who complain the technology has made their jobs harder. The measure would have forced internet users to preserve copies of communications sent over encrypted services, including social media such as Twitter and Facebook, for three months. "Some of the expressions used in the draft are giving rise to uncalled-for misgivings," said Communications and Information Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, announcing the withdrawal of the draft law. "I have noted some of the concerns."The draft policy would have required users of social messaging services to hand over unencrypted copies of their communications at the request of the police.Modi travels this weekend to Silicon Valley, home to leading internet companies whose reputations partly depend on their use of encryption to protect user data. While in California, Modi aims to woo investment and expertise to India. He is due to meet Apple's Tim Cook, drop in on Facebook and Tesla Motors, greet a mass rally of Indian expatriates and address startup entrepreneurs.Activists point to practical obstacles facing the government even if it were able to access the data. "It would be a huge risk and a massive target for any hackers," said Raman Jit Singh Chima of Access Now, a group campaigning for greater internet freedom. Members of rival political parties called the proposal a threat to freedom of expression. "The encryption policy is a snooping and spying orgy," said Manish Tewari, a leader of the opposition Congress party. (Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)