The tensions between the Indian government and popular messaging platform WhatsApp have escalated, as the Facebook-owned platform took the government to court over the new IT rules that come into effect today.
The government had given social media platforms three months to comply with the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, the deadline of which ended yesterday. On the same day, WhatsApp filed a lawsuit in the Delhi High Court to prevent the new IT rules from coming into effect, alleging that it would mean the end of users’ privacy and is a violation of privacy rights in India’s constitution as it requires “significant social media intermediaries” like WhatsApp to “trace” the origin of particular messages sent on the service.
“Requiring messaging apps to ‘trace’ chats is the equivalent of asking us to keep a fingerprint of every single message sent on WhatsApp, which would break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermines people’s right to privacy,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said on Wednesday. The platform has over 400 million users in India.
“We have consistently joined civil society and experts around the world in opposing requirements that would violate the privacy of our users. In the meantime, we will also continue to engage with the government of India on practical solutions aimed at keeping people safe, including responding to valid legal requests for the information available to us,” said a spokesperson of the California-based Facebook unit.
End-to-end encryption ensures that only the sender and the receiver can see the messages sent. If WhatsApp complies with the law, the encryption would no longer be in effect, and traceability of messages would easily reveal what messages were sent by whom to whom. WhatsApp added that traceability would force private companies to collect and store user data for billions of messages sent each day, thus collecting more data than what is needed for giving to law enforcement agencies. This will lead to the end of the privacy of users.
The government has deemed this move from WhatsApp as a clear act of defiance, adding that it has noble intentions behind these new rules. It says that it is doing so for “purposes of prevention, investigation, punishment etc. of inter alia an offence relating to sovereignty, integrity and security of India, public order incitement to an offence relating to rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for not less than five years.”
The relations between social media giants and the Indian government have been nothing short of tense, with the ruling BJP government recently ‘visiting’ Twitter India’s offices to serve a notice over the Congress toolkit row. Yesterday, platforms like Facebook and YouTube lost the immunity they had over posts on their platform, becoming liable for criminal action should they not comply with the revised regulations.
The new IT rules mandate that a platform must have five million registered users as the threshold to be classified as a significant social media intermediary. These companies can then be held accountable for any content posted on their platforms. Additionally, a resident grievance officer, chief compliance officer, and a nodal contact person have to be appointed, and they have to publish the details of these executives on their website, along with a physical contact address. They must also take down content within 36 hours of a legal order, as well as use automated processes to take down offensive content.
Department of Information Technologies: https://www.ibu.edu.ba/department-of-information-technologies/