HomeGeneralWhatsApp Sues Indian Government over Privacy Concerns

WhatsApp Sues Indian Government over Privacy Concerns

The popular messaging app, WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, has filed a lawsuit against India’s new IT rules, which were brought in-effect yesterday. The case was filed in the Delhi High Court and urges the court to declare that one of the new digital rules violates the Indian citizens’ right to privacy. This violation stems from the fact that the Indian Government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requires social media companies to identify and present the “first originator of information,” when demanded.

“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,” WhatsApp comments on the lawsuit to Reuters. The Indian rules also state that if the regulations are not complied with, the social media companies will have to bear the liability for any third-party information made available or hosted without the government’s approval.

WhatsApp Sues Indian Government Regarding Privacy Concerns - India Gate Street Cars Traffic
Image: Shubham Dhiman / Unsplash

The January-2021 WhatsApp Update

Back in January, there was an uproar in the country about the new update released by WhatsApp. The update received immense backlash and, WhatsApp lost millions of users in a day. Thereafter, they suspended the implementation of the new privacy rules till May 2021. One of the key points of the January update was, “As part of the Facebook Companies, WhatsApp partners with Facebook to offer experiences and integrations across Facebook’s family of apps and products,” stated in WhatsApp’s privacy policy.

For a user, what this means is that their personal information would be shared with Facebook after they agree to the update in order to continue to use WhatsApp. The updated privacy policy also intended to alert the users that businesses will also use Facebook to store data collected during conversations with customers. Like they say, “the call is being recorded for training purposes.”

The response from India on the update

A lot of users started moving to other messaging platforms, in search of a more secure environment. The Modi government also expressed its concern over the new update. But in Feb, the government announced the “tracking the first originator” regulation to moderate the social media platforms, OTTs, and its citizens from spreading “mischievous” tweets or messages, in matters related to security, the sovereignty of the country, public orders, or any regards to rape or sexually explicit material. The government also says that it’s not interested in the personal contents of a chat, just wants the companies to disclose the information of the originator.

WhatsApp Sues Indian Government Regarding Privacy Concerns - Hands Color Of India
Image: Debashis RC Biswas / Unsplash

The first originator can be defined as a person or a group who the government thinks started mischief or activity that spreads “anti-national” sentiments especially related to its practices and management of the present COVID-19 wave in India.

An end to end-to-end encryption

The debates around data encryption and privacy have been a part of our discourse for at least the last decade. Questions like “Should encryption be banned? Can it be banned?,” have been a part of TechAcute’s discourse as well. In 2016, WhatsApp was banned in Brazil for 72 hours. Judge Marcel Montalvão, made a similar request like the Modi government,  asking for chat records from WhatsApp for a drug investigation.

The new regulations will force WhatsApp to give up its end-to-end encryption service when authorities demand it. “The new traceability and filtering requirements may put an end to end-to-end encryption in India,” Stanford Internet Observatory scholar Riana Pfefferkorn wrote in March. The company explains its stand against traceability, and mass surveillance, on a FAQ page.

Everyone’s on WhatsApp

Various Indian societies have been truly connected by many social media platforms, but WhatsApp and Facebook have managed to reach the depths of the Indian culture and have brought generations on the same platforms. Various small businesses in India started coming to life, from groups such as We Speak Out, Hey Deedee to helping a 53-year-old Radha Kishan Soni build networks through WhatsApp. A lot of social media platforms act as bridges between many religions, castes, and colors to look past their past and move forward with technology.

Privacy issues from both ends are always a threat to a nation that is trying to run on an entrepreneurial system rather than the wimps and wits of the ruling government. India is a nation with around 1.3 billion people and 229 million are youngsters between 15-24 years. Millennials also find peace, jobs, business opportunities, through these platforms. Safeguarding the users more than profits and policies look like a step forward in this war on privacy.

Photo credit: The feature image has been done by Rachit Tank. The photo “India Gate” has been taken by Shubham Dhiman. The picture “Color of India” was shot by Debashis RC Biswas.
Source: Joseph Menn (Reuters) / Nandagopal Rajan (Indian Express) / Alex Hern (Guardian) / Riana Pfefferkorn (Brookings Tech Stream) / WhatsApp FAQ / WhatsApp privacy policy / WhatsApp feature “Small Business Stories from India”

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Ujala Chowdhry
Hello, I'm a tech journalist here. I did my bachelors in computer science engineering and masters in journalism. Combining the knowledge gained from both my degrees, I have been able to view many facets of technology at TechAcute. I stay healthy by doing yoga and Indian classical dance forms. I would love to hear from the readers about their interests and the tech that intrigues them. Let me know on my Twitter and Instagram profiles.

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