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.
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".
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.
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."
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."
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.
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!
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.
Chinese apps banned in India in June 2020
Clash of Kings
DU battery saver
Mi Video Call Xiaomi
ES File Explorer
Viva Video QU Video Inc
New Video Status
Cache Cleaner DU App studio
Hago Play With New Friends
Clean Master Cheetah Mobile
QQ Security Center
V fly Status Video
Chinese apps banned in India in September 2020
PUBG MOBILE Nordic Map: Livik
PUBG MOBILE LITE
Rise of Kingdoms: Lost Crusade
APUS Flashlight-Free & Bright
Cut Cut Cut Out & Photo Background Editor
APUS Launcher Pro- Theme, Live Wallpapers, Smart
Baidu Express Edition
FaceU Inspire your Beauty
ShareSave by Xiaomi: Latest gadgets, amazing deals
CamCard Business Card Reader
CamCard for Salesforce
VooV Meeting Tencent Video Conferencing
APUS Launcher -Theme, Call Show, Wallpaper, HideApps
Small Q brush
Cyber Hunter Lite
Knives Out-No rules, just fight!
Super Mecha Champions
Dawn of Isles
Ludo World-Ludo Superstar
Super Clean Master of Cleaner, Phone Booster
APUS Security -Antivirus, Phone security, Cleaner
APUS Turbo Cleaner 2020- Junk Cleaner, Anti-Virus
Art of Conquest: Dark Horizon
Game of Sultans
Gallery Vault Hide Pictures And Videos
Smart AppLock (App Protect)
Message Lock (SMS Lock)-Gallery Vault Developer Team
Hide App-Hide Application Icon
Dual Space Multiple Accounts & App Cloner
ZAKZAK Pro Live chat & video chat online
ZAKZAK LIVE: live-streaming & video chat app
Music Mp3 Player
Music Player Audio Player & 10 Bands Equalizer
HD Camera Selfie Beauty Camera
Cleaner Phone Booster
Web Browser & Fast Explorer
Video Player All Format for Android
Photo Gallery HD & Editor
Photo Gallery & Album
Music Player Bass Booster Free Download
HD Camera Beauty Cam with Filters & Panorama
HD Camera Pro & Selfie Camera
Music Player MP3 Player & 10 Bands Equalizer
Web Browser Fast, Privacy & Light Web Explorer
Web Browser Secure Explorer
Music player Audio Player
Video Player All Format HD Video Player
Lamour Love All Over The World
Amour- video chat & call all over the world.
MV Master Make Your Status Video & Community
MV Master Best Video Maker & Photo Video Editor
APUS Message Center-Intelligent management
LivU Meet new people & Video chat with strangers
Carrom Friends : Carrom Board & Pool Game-
Ludo All Star- Play Online Ludo Game & Board Games
Bike Racing : Moto Traffic Rider Bike Racing Games
Rangers Of Oblivion : Online Action MMO RPG Game
Z Camera Photo Editor, Beauty Selfie, Collage
GO SMS Pro Messenger, Free Themes, Emoji
U-Dictionary: Oxford Dictionary Free Now Translate
Ulike Define your selfie in trendy style
Tantan Date For Real
MICO Chat: New Friends Banaen aur Live Chat karen
Kitty Live Live Streaming & Video Live Chat
Malay Social Dating App to Date & Meet Singles
Road of Kings- Endless Glory
Tencent Watchlist (Tencent Technology
Learn Chinese AI-Super Chinese
HUYA LIVE Game Live Stream
Little Q Album
Fighting Landlords Free and happy Fighting Landlords
Mobile Legends: Pocket
VPN for TikTok
VPN for TikTok
Penguin E-sports Live assistant
Buy Cars-offer everything you need, special offers and low prices
Beauty Camera Plus Sweet Camera & Face Selfie
Parallel Space Lite Dual App
“Chief Almighty: First Thunder BC
MARVEL Super War NetEase Games
Creative Destruction NetEase Games
Crusaders of Light NetEase Games
Mafia City Yotta Games
Onmyoji NetEase Games
Ride Out Heroes NetEase Games
Yimeng Jianghu-Chu Liuxiang has been fully upgraded
Legend: Rising Empire NetEase Games
Arena of Valor: 5v5 Arena Games
Rules of Survival
Chinese apps banned in November 2020
Lalamove India Delivery App
Drive with Lalamove India
AliSuppliers Mobile App
CamCard Business Card Reader
CamCard BCR (Western)
Soul- Follow the soul to find you
Chinese Social Free Online Dating Video App & Chat
Date in Asia Dating & Chat For Asian Singles
Free dating app-Singol, start your date!
TrulyChinese Chinese Dating App
TrulyAsian Asian Dating App
ChinaLove: dating app for Chinese singles
DateMyAge: Chat, Meet, Date Mature Singles Online
AsianDate: find Asian singles
FlirtWish: chat with singles
Guys Only Dating: Gay Chat
Tubit: Live Streams
First Love Live- super hot live beauties live online
Rela Lesbian Social Network
MGTV-HunanTV official TV APP
WeTV TV version
WeTV Cdrama, Kdrama&More
Lucky Live-Live Video Streaming App
Isoland 2: Ashes of Time
BoxStar (Early Access)
Jellipop Match-Decorate your dream island
Munchkin Match: magic home building
Conquista Online II
Chinese apps banned in February 2022
Garena Free Fire Illuminate
Beauty Camera Selfie Camera
Lica Cam selfie camera app
Music Player- Music.Mp3 Player
Voice Recorder & Voice Changer
Music Plus MP3 Player
Equalizer Pro Volume Booster & Bass Booster
Viva Video Editor Snack Video Maker with Music
Music Player Equalizer & MP3
Volume Booster Loud Speaker & Sound Booster
Music Player MP3 Player
CamCard for SalesForce Ent
Isoland 2: Ashes of Time Lite
Rise of Kingdoms: Lost Crusade
APUS Security HD (Pad Version)
Parallel Space Lite 32 Support
Video Player Media All Format
Nice video baidu
Dual Space Lite Multiple Accounts & Clone App
Dual Space Pro Multiple Accounts & App Cloner
DualSpace Lite 32Bit Support
Dual Space 32Bit Support
Dual Space 64Bit Support
Dual Space Pro 32Bit Support
Conquer Online MMORPG Game
Conquer Online Il
Live Weather & Radar Alerts
Notes- Color Notepad, Notebook
MP3 Cutter Ringtone Maker & Audio Cutter
Equalizer & Bass Booster Music Volume EQ
Barcode Scanner QR Code Scan
Equalizer Bass Booster & Volume EQ & Virtualizer
UU Game Booster-network solution for high ping
Stick Fight: The Game Mobile
CuteU: Match With The World
Small World-Enjoy groupchat and video chat
FancvU Video Chat & Meetup
Real: Go Live. Make Friends
MoonChat: Enjoy Video Chats
Real Lite -video to live!
Wink: Connect Now
FunChat Meet People Around You
FancyU pro Instant Meetup through Video chat!
Beauty Camera: Sweet Selfie HD