India first democracy to ban encrypted messaging apps on massive scale.

Only days before Press Freedom Day, India banned apps for secure communication because of "terrorists" use.

India banned apps due to terror suspicion: First democracy to crack down on privacy and free speech.
In India, apps including Briar, Element and Threema, got blocked beginning of May based on the arguments that these apps would be used by "terrorists" and that these apps would not have a "representative" for government contact based in India. However, it more looks like a strategic decision to stop Indian people from using secure and anonymous messaging apps. This makes India the first democracy to follow in the footsteps of authoritarian governments like Iran and Russia.

Apps banned in India

According to the Indian Express 14 mobile applications that provided end-to-end encrypted (E2EE) messaging services or enabled peer-to-peer (P2P) messaging, namely "Wickrme, Mediafire, Briar, BChat, Nandbox, Conion, IMO, Element, Second line, Zangi, Threema, Crypviser, Enigma, and Safeswiss", were blocked in India following the recommendation of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) beginning of May. These apps have been blocked under Section 69A of the Indian Information Technology Act, 2000.

The 14 apps were banned because they were being used by "terrorists" and their supporters in Jammu and Kashmir, according to central intelligence agencies in India.

List of encrypted apps banned

  1. Wickrme

  2. Mediafire

  3. Briar

  4. BChat

  5. Nandbox

  6. Conion

  7. IMO

  8. Element

  9. Second line

  10. Zangi

  11. Threema

  12. Crypviser

  13. Enigma

  14. Safeswiss

A source told the Indian Express that "the intelligence agencies also informed the MHA that most of these apps are designed to provide anonymity to their users and their features make it tough to resolve the entities associated with them. These mobile apps aid the "terrorists" and their affiliates to engage in activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India and can disturb peace and harmony."

The block included Free Software apps, such as Briar and Element, which are now banned in India. The reason the officials give for justifying the ban is that these apps would not have "any representatives in India and cannot be contacted for seeking information as mandated by the Indian laws".

Comment by Element

However, Element already published a statement regarding the issue explaining that they do reply to Indian government requests: "While Element never compromises end-to-end encryption or user privacy, we have been contacted by Indian authorities in the past and addressed them in a constructive fashion (typically responding same-day). Indeed our Trust & Safety team works with governments to build safer secure communications for everyone; while ensuring user privacy and protecting end-to-end encryption."

This statement makes India's argumentation on why the block was necessary look less convincing. It would be very worrisome if India - as the first democratically elected government - goes down the same path as authoritarian governments like Iran and Russia where encrypted communication tools are blocked on a massive scale already.

Coincidentally, we in a coalition with 45+ organizations warned against exactly such a development in democratic countries in an open letter on Press Freedom Day - so around the same time as India issued the ban on these 14 apps.

Encryption brings safety

These governments tend to neglect that encryption brings safety - to all of us. We must not take privacy away from all citizens as this would make the web as such completely insecure.

Or, as Phil Zimmermann put it: "If privacy is outlawed, only outlaws will have privacy."

Phil Zimmermann quote: If privacy is outlawed, only outlaws will have privacy.

Element's arguments go into the same direction:

"Some governments see undermining encryption as the most effective way to combat the ills of terrorism or other illegal behaviour. That approach is completely flawed; it just removes ordinary people’s ability to communicate in private which leaves them vulnerable to all types of surveillance, crime and subjugation."

"In actual fact, end-to-end encryption strengthens national security which is why Element has various parts of the French, German, Swedish, UK and US governments as customers."

"Undermining end-to-end encryption is an attack on people’s basic human right to privacy and security of communications. Rather than accept that as a cost to pay, we look to preserve and protect those rights, and to work with governments, journalists, non-profits, academic researchers and the rest of the tech industry to rise to the challenge of reducing those harms."

Indian Open Source Community files complaint

Based on statements like the one from Element who say they have not been contacted about the blockage indicate that reasoned blocking orders and a pre-decisional hearing were not provided to these 14 mobile apps. The Free Software Community of India (FSCI) argues that "denial of these rights violates Shreya Singhal v. Union of India and Section 69A Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act, 2000). Moreover, ambiguity exists around the territorial scope and extent of the ban, as it is unclear if the ban is applicable and enforceable across India or just in J&K (Jammu and Kashmir). Complete and absolute bans on mobile apps are a disproportionate restriction on the right to freedom of speech and expression. In efforts to advance transparency, IFF filed a series of Right to Information (RTI) applications with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), and J&K police to obtain the blocking order, an exhaustive list of the banned apps, and to seek more information regarding it."

The FSCI says in a statement:

"The ban, we believe, will not serve the purpose as there are many anonymous alternate apps that can be used by terror outfits to fill their purpose."

"Federated, peer-to-peer, encrypted, Free Software apps/software like Element and Briar, should be promoted. They are key to our national security as they provide means to enable sovereign, private and secure communication to citizens of India. Element has been embraced by Governments of France 3, Germany 4 and Sweden 5 which should be an example for India."

A petition has been filed by people belonging to the Free Software Community of India in High Court of Kerala to publish the banning order as well as release the banned apps back to the public with the argumentation that the blocking order is illegal.

The broad grounds under which the ban on encrypted chat apps in India has been challenged are:

  • The impugned order has been passed without any notice and intimation to the concerned parties.

  • The impugned order violates Freedom of Speech and Expression and Right to Free Trade and Profession.

  • Rule 16 of the Blocking Rules, 2009 does not leave any opportunity for the aggrieved party to seek redressal from a judicial authority.

The prayers that have been relied on for relief of the banned apps in India are:

  • A direction for the appropriate authorities to produce a copy of the order which sanctions the blocking.

  • To quash the order to the extent that Element and Briar are unblocked and the ban is lifted.

  • To set aside Rule 16 of the Blocking Rules, 2009.

The matter is set to come up on Tuesday, 16th of May, 2023 in Kerala High Court.

Right to privacy

The right to privacy and freedom of speech are closely connected and must be uphold in any democracy. Otherwise, democracy itself is at risk!

That's why we repeat the calls we made to policymakers on Press Freedom Day here. We call on governments to:

  • Ensure that encryption is not being undermined via overreaching legislative initiatives.

  • Ensure that technologies providing secure, encrypted services are not being blocked or throttled.

  • Revisit any bills, laws and policies that legitimise undermining encryption or blocking access to services offering encrypted communication, particularly the Surveillance Legislation Amendment Act in Australia, the EARN IT Act in the US, the Online Safety Bill in the UK, Bill C26 in Canada, India’s Directions 20(3)/2022 - CERT-In and the proposed version of the rules to prevent and combat child sexual abuse in the EU.

Together we must stand up for privacy and freedom of speech!


Full list of Chinese apps banned in India

Apart from these encrypted chat apps that are banned in Jammu and Kashmir, India is known for banning apps, particularly Chinese ones such PUBG Mobile, WeChat, and TikTok.

For instance, India imposed a nationwide ban on TikTok and dozens of other Chinese apps, including the messaging app WeChat, in 2020 over privacy and security concerns. To date, hundreds of Chinese apps are banned in India, including PUBG Mobile, Tiktok, Shein, WeChat, AliExpress and more.

List of banned apps

Chinese apps banned in India in June 2020

  1. TikTok

  2. Shareit

  3. Likee

  4. Clash of Kings

  5. Club Factory

  6. Weibo

  7. WeChat

  8. DU battery saver

  9. Helo

  10. Kwai

  11. YouCam makeup

  12. Mi Community

  13. CM Browers

  14. Virus Cleaner

  15. APUS Browser

  16. ROMWE

  17. Baidu map

  18. Newsdog

  19. Beutry Plus

  20. UC Browser

  21. UC News

  22. QQ Mail

  23. Shein

  24. Xender

  25. QQ Music

  26. QQ Newsfeed

  27. Bigo Live

  28. SelfieCity

  29. Mail Master

  30. Parallel Space

  31. Mi Video Call Xiaomi

  32. WeSync

  33. ES File Explorer

  34. Viva Video QU Video Inc

  35. Meitu

  36. Vigo Video

  37. New Video Status

  38. DU Recorder

  39. Vault- Hide

  40. Cache Cleaner DU App studio

  41. DU Cleaner

  42. DU Browser

  43. Hago Play With New Friends

  44. Cam Scanner

  45. Clean Master Cheetah Mobile

  46. Wonder Camera

  47. Photo Wonder

  48. QQ Player

  49. We Meet

  50. Sweet Selfie

  51. Baidu Translate

  52. Vmate

  53. QQ International

  54. QQ Security Center

  55. QQ Launcher

  56. U Video

  57. V fly Status Video

  58. Mobile Legend

Chinese apps banned in India in September 2020

  1. Baidu

  2. PUBG MOBILE Nordic Map: Livik


  4. Rise of Kingdoms: Lost Crusade

  5. APUS Flashlight-Free & Bright

  6. Cut Cut Cut Out & Photo Background Editor

  7. APUS Launcher Pro- Theme, Live Wallpapers, Smart

  8. Baidu Express Edition

  9. FaceU Inspire your Beauty

  10. ShareSave by Xiaomi: Latest gadgets, amazing deals

  11. CamCard Business Card Reader

  12. CamCard Business

  13. CamCard for Salesforce

  14. CamOCR

  15. InNote

  16. VooV Meeting Tencent Video Conferencing

  17. APUS Launcher -Theme, Call Show, Wallpaper, HideApps

  18. WeChat reading

  19. Government WeChat

  20. Small Q brush

  21. Tencent Weiyun

  22. Pitu

  23. WeChat Work

  24. Cyber Hunter

  25. Cyber Hunter Lite

  26. Knives Out-No rules, just fight!

  27. Super Mecha Champions

  28. LifeAfter

  29. Dawn of Isles

  30. Ludo World-Ludo Superstar

  31. Chess Rush

  32. Super Clean Master of Cleaner, Phone Booster

  33. APUS Security -Antivirus, Phone security, Cleaner

  34. APUS Turbo Cleaner 2020- Junk Cleaner, Anti-Virus

  35. Art of Conquest: Dark Horizon

  36. Dank Tanks

  37. Warpath

  38. Game of Sultans

  39. Gallery Vault Hide Pictures And Videos

  40. Smart AppLock (App Protect)

  41. Message Lock (SMS Lock)-Gallery Vault Developer Team

  42. Hide App-Hide Application Icon

  43. AppLock

  44. AppLock Lite

  45. Dual Space Multiple Accounts & App Cloner

  46. ZAKZAK Pro Live chat & video chat online

  47. ZAKZAK LIVE: live-streaming & video chat app

  48. Music Mp3 Player

  49. Music Player Audio Player & 10 Bands Equalizer

  50. HD Camera Selfie Beauty Camera

  51. Cleaner Phone Booster

  52. Web Browser & Fast Explorer

  53. Video Player All Format for Android

  54. Photo Gallery HD & Editor

  55. Photo Gallery & Album

  56. Music Player Bass Booster Free Download

  57. HD Camera Beauty Cam with Filters & Panorama

  58. HD Camera Pro & Selfie Camera

  59. Music Player MP3 Player & 10 Bands Equalizer

  60. Gallery HD

  61. Web Browser Fast, Privacy & Light Web Explorer

  62. Web Browser Secure Explorer

  63. Music player Audio Player

  64. Video Player All Format HD Video Player

  65. Lamour Love All Over The World

  66. Amour- video chat & call all over the world.

  67. MV Master Make Your Status Video & Community

  68. MV Master Best Video Maker & Photo Video Editor

  69. APUS Message Center-Intelligent management

  70. LivU Meet new people & Video chat with strangers

  71. Carrom Friends : Carrom Board & Pool Game-

  72. Ludo All Star- Play Online Ludo Game & Board Games

  73. Bike Racing : Moto Traffic Rider Bike Racing Games

  74. Rangers Of Oblivion : Online Action MMO RPG Game

  75. Z Camera Photo Editor, Beauty Selfie, Collage

  76. GO SMS Pro Messenger, Free Themes, Emoji

  77. U-Dictionary: Oxford Dictionary Free Now Translate

  78. Ulike Define your selfie in trendy style

  79. Tantan Date For Real

  80. MICO Chat: New Friends Banaen aur Live Chat karen

  81. Kitty Live Live Streaming & Video Live Chat

  82. Malay Social Dating App to Date & Meet Singles

  83. Alipay

  84. AlipayHK

  85. Mobile Taobao

  86. Youku

  87. Road of Kings- Endless Glory

  88. Sina News

  89. Netease News

  90. Penguin FM

  91. Murderous Pursuits

  92. Tencent Watchlist (Tencent Technology

  93. Learn Chinese AI-Super Chinese

  94. HUYA LIVE Game Live Stream

  95. Little Q Album

  96. Fighting Landlords Free and happy Fighting Landlords

  97. Hi Meitu

  98. Mobile Legends: Pocket

  99. VPN for TikTok

  100. VPN for TikTok

  101. Penguin E-sports Live assistant

  102. Buy Cars-offer everything you need, special offers and low prices

  103. iPick

  104. Beauty Camera Plus Sweet Camera & Face Selfie

  105. Parallel Space Lite Dual App

  106. “Chief Almighty: First Thunder BC

  107. MARVEL Super War NetEase Games

  108. AFK Arena

  109. Creative Destruction NetEase Games

  110. Crusaders of Light NetEase Games

  111. Mafia City Yotta Games

  112. Onmyoji NetEase Games

  113. Ride Out Heroes NetEase Games

  114. Yimeng Jianghu-Chu Liuxiang has been fully upgraded

  115. Legend: Rising Empire NetEase Games

  116. Arena of Valor: 5v5 Arena Games

  117. Soul Hunters

  118. Rules of Survival

Chinese apps banned in November 2020

  1. AliExpress

  2. Alibaba Workbench

  3. Adore App

  4. Alipay Cashier

  5. Lalamove India Delivery App

  6. Drive with Lalamove India

  7. AliSuppliers Mobile App

  8. CamCard Business Card Reader

  9. CamCard BCR (Western)

  10. Soul- Follow the soul to find you

  11. Chinese Social Free Online Dating Video App & Chat

  12. Date in Asia Dating & Chat For Asian Singles

  13. WeDate-Dating App

  14. Free dating app-Singol, start your date!

  15. Snack Video

  16. TrulyChinese Chinese Dating App

  17. TrulyAsian Asian Dating App

  18. ChinaLove: dating app for Chinese singles

  19. DateMyAge: Chat, Meet, Date Mature Singles Online

  20. AsianDate: find Asian singles

  21. FlirtWish: chat with singles

  22. Guys Only Dating: Gay Chat

  23. Tubit: Live Streams

  24. WeWorkChina

  25. First Love Live- super hot live beauties live online

  26. Rela Lesbian Social Network

  27. Cashier Wallet

  28. MangoTV

  29. MGTV-HunanTV official TV APP

  30. WeTV TV version

  31. WeTV Cdrama, Kdrama&More

  32. WeTV Lite

  33. Lucky Live-Live Video Streaming App

  34. Taobao Live

  35. DingTalk

  36. Identity V

  37. Isoland 2: Ashes of Time

  38. BoxStar (Early Access)

  39. Heroes Evolved

  40. Happy Fish

  41. Jellipop Match-Decorate your dream island

  42. Munchkin Match: magic home building

  43. Conquista Online II

Chinese apps banned in February 2022

  1. Garena Free Fire Illuminate

  2. Beauty Camera Selfie Camera

  3. Lica Cam selfie camera app

  4. Music Player- Music.Mp3 Player

  5. Voice Recorder & Voice Changer

  6. Music Plus MP3 Player

  7. Equalizer Pro Volume Booster & Bass Booster

  8. Viva Video Editor Snack Video Maker with Music

  9. Music Player Equalizer & MP3

  10. Volume Booster Loud Speaker & Sound Booster

  11. Music Player MP3 Player

  12. CamCard for SalesForce Ent

  13. Isoland 2: Ashes of Time Lite

  14. Rise of Kingdoms: Lost Crusade

  15. APUS Security HD (Pad Version)

  16. Parallel Space Lite 32 Support

  17. Video Player Media All Format

  18. Nice video baidu

  19. Tencent Xriver

  20. Onmyoji Chess

  21. Onmyoji Arena

  22. AppLock

  23. Dual Space Lite Multiple Accounts & Clone App

  24. Dual Space Pro Multiple Accounts & App Cloner

  25. DualSpace Lite 32Bit Support

  26. Dual Space 32Bit Support

  27. Dual Space 64Bit Support

  28. Dual Space Pro 32Bit Support

  29. Conquer Online MMORPG Game

  30. Conquer Online Il

  31. Live Weather & Radar Alerts

  32. Notes- Color Notepad, Notebook

  33. MP3 Cutter Ringtone Maker & Audio Cutter

  34. Equalizer & Bass Booster Music Volume EQ

  35. Barcode Scanner QR Code Scan

  36. Equalizer Bass Booster & Volume EQ & Virtualizer

  37. EVE Echoes

  38. Astracraft

  39. UU Game Booster-network solution for high ping

  40. Extraordinary Ones

  41. Badlanders

  42. Stick Fight: The Game Mobile

  43. Twilight Pioneers

  44. CuteU: Match With The World

  45. Small World-Enjoy groupchat and video chat

  46. CuteU Pro

  47. FancvU Video Chat & Meetup

  48. Real: Go Live. Make Friends

  49. MoonChat: Enjoy Video Chats

  50. Real Lite -video to live!

  51. Wink: Connect Now

  52. FunChat Meet People Around You

  53. FancyU pro Instant Meetup through Video chat!

  54. Beauty Camera: Sweet Selfie HD