WhatsApp Sues India Government, Says New Digital Rules A Threat To Privacy

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WhatsApp has canceled its February 8 2021 deadline for accepting the tweak to its terms of service
WhatsApp has canceled its February 8 2021 deadline for accepting the tweak to its terms of service AFP / Lionel BONAVENTURE

WhatsApp is taking India Government to court over new digital rules in its largest market, which the popular messaging app says will force it to violate the privacy protection clause. 

The lawsuit was filed in the Delhi High Court on Tuesday against the traceability clause in the IT Rules 2021, which requires social media platforms to locate "the first originator of the information" if required by authorities, reported NDTV.

WhatsApp, which has close to 450 million users in India, says messages on its platform are end-to-end encrypted. Hence, to comply with the law it would have to break encryption for those who send and receive messages, it said in the petition.

"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 statement by the spokesperson of the California-based Facebook unit.

The social media giant is invoking a 2017 ruling to argue that the traceability provision is unconstitutional and against people’s fundamental right to privacy. The company has also pleaded to prevent criminal liability to its employees for noncompliance, reported The Indian Express. 

In a blog post, WhatsApp also explained why it opposed traceability. "Traceability requires messaging services to store information that can be used to ascertain the content of people’s messages, thereby breaking the very guarantees that end-to-end encryption provides. In order to trace even one message, services would have to trace every message."

It added: "That’s because there is no way to predict which message a government would want to investigate in the future. In doing so, a government that chooses to mandate traceability is effectively mandating a new form of mass surveillance."

This, according to the company, can also lead to innocent people ending up in jail for "sharing content that later becomes problematic in the eyes of a government." 

Not just WhatsApp, the new rule will impact other messaging apps, including Signal, Telegram, Snapchat and Wire.

India Government had given social media platforms three months to comply with the new digital rules that require them to appoint a compliance officer in India, set up a grievance response mechanism and take down content within 36 hours of a legal order. 

While Google and YouTube Tuesday said that "they will aim to comply with the country’s digital rules," Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are yet to comply with the new norms. 

Twitter, for its part, is already at loggerheads with the government over flagging some posts by ruling BJP leaders as "manipulated media." Following this, the Delhi Police had served the social media platform a notice. 

India's new digital rules are seen by many as attempts to rein in  Big Techs. This comes as regulators around the world, including European countries and Australia, ramp up scrutiny on tech giants.


WhatsApp has canceled its February 8 2021 deadline for accepting the tweak to its terms of service

Photo: AFP / Lionel BONAVENTURE

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