India’s Government is in talks to design and develop a messenger app similar to WhatsApp and other domestic secure communication networks, at least for government agencies. The Government is mulling this idea to ensure protection and security from dangers that may haunt in future, arising out of geopolitical developments.
Washington sanctions, banning U.S. companies from dealing with the Chinese company Huawei, has resulted concerns in New Delhi, a senior government official told ET. Asking to maintain anonymity, he further said “There are strong discussions that for strategic and security reasons, over a period of time, we should have email, messaging-…all sorts of systems, at least for government communication, which doesn’t depend on outside player.”
“We need to make our communication insular.” The official said they are in talks regarding developing an indigenous app that would facilitate official communication over secured and well developed networks. “We should have some form of a sarkari WhatsApp.”
The government seeks to store 100% of all the communication and data transmissions over those networks. “For starters, at least all forms of government-to-government communication should begin on such platforms and then we could take this forward to the next step, which is all government communication to people should also use these platforms,” the official said. This will also be in line with Indian Government’s tough but required directive on storage of data on local servers, instead of it getting stored outside of the country.
Indian Government is also plans to cut ties with Huawei’s smartphones after the U.S. government on May 21, barred the Chinese company’s products and also barred US companies from supplying software and components to firms which make telecom equipment as well as smartphones. The US has also been urging India to bar Huawei from 5G, but New Delhi is yet to take a decision.
“Look what happened to Huawei, their Honor (branded) phones,” the official said. “It was unthinkable, but now it has definitely rung alarm bells with us. Tomorrow, if the US finds us unreliable for some reason, all they need to do is ask their companies to slow down networks in India and everything here will come to a standstill. We are vulnerable and we must take steps to cover that.”
In the face of the ban by US, Huawei is reportedly aiming to build its own trademark OS to replace the android OS in several countries.
The official said that all government agencies and officials could be stopped from using private messaging platforms, like Gmail or WhatsApp communications for official purposes. “Right now, officers use their private emails, etc. This needs to stop.”
Facebook owned WhatsApp deems India to be its largest market with more than 200 million users. The social media platform is in disagreements with the Indian Government over the latter’s demand to allow traceability of its messages, as a result of New Delhi’s efforts to check rumour-mongering, leading to criminal activities.
“The United States Trade Representative has already red flagged our proposed data privacy bill and the intermediary guidelines,” another senior official said. “American companies are resisting our efforts of data localisation. These, coupled with the recent ban on Huawei, means the Americans can cripple us anytime they decide to.”
The second official said that at least under the proposed plan, all significant data would stay in India.