A parliamentary standing committee on Home Affairs has urged the central government of India to block VPNs in India, alleging that such services “allow criminals to remain anonymous online.” As reported by MediaNama, the committee has highlighted that the Ministry of Home Affairs must coordinate with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to “identify and permanently block such VPNs with the help of internet service providers.” The recommendations also suggested that India must develop a “coordination mechanism” with international agencies, in order to block VPNs in India permanently.
The recommendation by the parliamentary committee comes months after the central government liberalised the Other Service Providers (OSPs) sector by recommending the official use of VPNs, in order to facilitate remote working ability for India’s massive outsourced IT industry. The move was deemed as a welcome one to facilitate the functioning of one of India’s largest industry sectors, in effect of the Covid-19 pandemic. The move essentially relaxed the erstwhile norms set by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) pertaining to call centres and IT services in India.
Titled ‘Action taken by Government on the recommendations and observations contained in the 230th report on the atrocities and crimes against women and children’ the report no. 233 by the committee reads as the following:
“The Committee notes with anxiety the technological challenge posed by VPN services and Dark Web, that can bypass cyber security walls and allow criminals to remain anonymous online. As of date, VPN can easily be downloaded, as many websites are providing such facilities and advertising them. The Committee, therefore, recommends that the Ministry of Home Affairs should coordinate with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to identify and permanently block such VPNs with the help of internet service providers. The Committee also recommends that a coordination mechanism should also be developed with international agencies to ensure that these VPNs are blocked permanently. The Ministry must take initiatives to strengthen the tracking and surveillance mechanisms by further improving and developing the state-of-the-art technology, to put a check on the use of VPN and the dark web.”
In its later part, the report also states, “The Committee notes the incomplete reply of the MeitY as no information has been provided on coordination mechanisms with international agencies to block VPNs permanently and initiatives taken/proposed to strengthen the tracking and surveillance mechanisms to put a check on the use of VPN and the dark web. The MHA may put its efforts in getting such information from MeitY and furnish the same to the Committee.”
At the moment, it is not clear what the follow-up move regarding this would be. Moves to block VPNs in India and abroad are often deemed by privacy advocates as a move that may stifle the free exchange of information on the internet. Going forward, it will be interesting to see what move is undertaken next. In terms of regulating actions on the internet, the government has already moved in 2020 to enforce bans on specific apps with ties to China, citing national security as the reason behind its actions.
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