WhatsApp drags Indian Govt to court for rules hitting privacy, tracing first originator

WhatsApp on Wednesday said that the new IT guidelines are against people’s fundamental right to privacy.

Indian Government’s new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, has become a debatable issue worldwide. With a section of society in India supporting the new rules, the others have criticized Indian Government saying that the new rules are again a tactic of the Modi-led-BJP govt to suppress the voices of dissent.

In the latest development as deadline to accept the new guidelines have already ended, Facebook-owned WhatsApp today filed a lawsuit against the Indian government in the Delhi High Court, saying that the provision to trace chats is completely against their concept of end-to-end encryption.

It further added that the provision will allow private firms as they can collect and store ‘who-said-what and who-shared-what’ data for billions of messages daily just for the requirement of law enforcement agencies.

A WhatsApp spokesperson said that requiring messaging apps to "trace" chats is the equivalent of asking us to keep a fingerprint of every single message sent on WhatsApp.

"It would break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermines people's right to privacy. We have consistently joined civil society and experts around the world in opposing requirements that would violate the privacy of our users," the spokesperson stressed.

Meanwhile, the company also emphasized on the fact that they will continue to engage with the GOI on practical and logical solutions aimed at keeping people’s data safe, including responding to valid legal requests for the information available to them.

However, the Indian government has yet not reacted to the lawsuit. The tussle between Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook and the Union government seems to have reached its nadir, with cops raiding Twitter offices in the pandemic earlier this week over the ToolKit controversy.

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WhatsApp has been continuously raising objections saying that new rules infringe on users' privacy. Besides, WhatsApp has also gone ahead with implementing its controversial user privacy policy from May 15, clearing stating that "we will maintain this approach until at least the forthcoming PDP (personal data protection) law comes into effect".

When the concept of "traceability" was first proposed in early 2019, dozens of organisations wrote to the Indian government about how such a provision would violate the privacy of Indian users.

The IT rules published earlier this year, in addition to calling for "traceability" risk criminal penalties for non-compliance.

WhatsApp has consistently opposed legal action that would break end-to-end encryption. The company is currently fighting the same before the Supreme Court of Brazil on a similar matter.

"We also do not believe traceability can be imposed in a way that cannot be spoofed or modified, leading to new ways for people to be framed for things they did not say or do. Such massive data collection also makes messaging platforms inherently less secure by opening up more avenues for hacking," WhatsApp had said earlier.

As per the new rules, the social media platforms will have to remove offending content within 36 hours after a government directive or a legal order. The new rules mandate that the intermediaries, including social media intermediaries, must establish a grievance redressal mechanism for receiving/resolving complaints from the users or victims.

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On the user privacy policy, the Facebook-owned platform with over 400 million users in the country has defended its position, saying that it continues to engage with the government to resolve the issue.

WhatsApp said it has sent a reply to the notice by MeitY after the ministry directed the Facebook-owned platform to withdraw its controversial user privacy policy.




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