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.
The January-2021 WhatsApp Update
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.
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.