This post has my commentary, and a call to action for Element developers, on The Government of India banning Element.

In the beginning, the universe was created. This made a lot of people very angry and was widely regarded as a bad move. Then, India banned Element, and it made a lot more people even angrier.

My country made another decision that I strongly disagree with. The MEITY – the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology – banned Element, among 14 mobile apps that they identified as being used by terrorists. It’s a rash decision, and I think it was made without talking to technology experts. It keeps good software away from ordinary people, and doesn’t deter terrorist groups at all.

Rather, it has the opposite effect. Banning an app will only make it unavailable from the official app stores. Ordinary users are more likely to rely on these official sources, as compared to terrorist groups. They can also make use of other easy workarounds to download the app anyway. It is the ordinary people who are less likely to use the app now. This hinders the adoption of good, open source software, because a few bad actors also use it. Element is an app that I myself use daily, as do many other people who care about privacy. Terrorist groups communicating might be a problem, but banning apps – that are used by ordinary people for ordinary things – is not the solution.

I think this is one of those times when the government needs to hear opinions from its technologically aware people. Element is an open source software without the marketing, legal, or lobbying resources of apps such as WhatsApp and Messenger: which are also secured with encryption and likely used by terrorists. I believe that against the right arguments the government will reverse their decision.

Last year, the same government body had also banned VLC media player. People from the VLC media player org successfully fought this ban in court, with help from Internet Freedom Foundation. I think that can happen again. If you are someone who can represent Element, please consider reaching out to organisations such as the Internet Freedom Foundation to help overturn this decision.