India’s feud with social media platforms continues as they try to enforce new internet rules. These new rules have led WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging service, to sue the Indian government as it claims that the new rules are unconstitutional and will significantly undermine the privacy of its users.
The new rules come under the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, which were introduced back in February. The rules came into effect yesterday. The rules dictate that every messaging app must identify the first originator of a message when asked by the government. Now, WhatsApp being end-to-end encrypted doesn’t keep track of who sends which messages.
Complying with the new rules would mean that it would have to trace every message sent on its platform, which would violate its users’ right to privacy. A spokesperson from WhatsApp said that “Civil society and technical experts around the world have consistently argued that a requirement to “trace” private messages would break end-to-end encryption and lead to real abuse. WhatsApp is committed to protecting the privacy of people’s personal messages and we will continue to do all we can within the laws of India to do so”.
WhatsApp has around 400 million users in India and keeping track of the originator of a message would violate the privacy of every single user. Many other companies and digital rights group back WhatsApp’s stance on traceability. Some of these groups are Mozilla, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and the Center for Democracy and Technology.
The Indian government is trying hard to take control of social media platforms in the country. Earlier this week a police raid also took place on Twitter offices in Delhi. According to WhatsApp FAQ on their website, they say that “A government that chooses to mandate traceability is effectively mandating a new form of mass surveillance”. Indian government officials have also ordered Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to remove posts that portray their handling of the pandemic.
WhatsApp also added that “In the meantime, we will also continue to engage with Government of India on practical solutions aimed at keeping people safe, including responding to valid legal requests for the information available to us”. WhatsApp also pointed out that new rules fail the conditions established by a Supreme Court ruling in 2017.
The ruling says that privacy must be preserved except when legality, necessity, and proportionality require its infringement. It’s unclear if the messaging service wins the suit or not. We’ll continue to monitor the situation closely.