Indian Government Wants WhatsApp to Disclose Origin of One Message Without Violating Privacy Of All Users, But That’s Not Possible


WhatsApp earlier today decided to drag the Indian government to the court over the new IT rules. The IT rules require social media platforms to disclose the “first originator of information” when authorities demand it for legal purposes. However, WhatsApp claims that such an approach will end the privacy of its users. The government has now responded claiming that it has no intention to violate the privacy of Indian citizens. It further said that WhatsApp is required to disclose the origin of a particular message only when it is required for investigation, punishment or prevention of serious offences. Let’s take a look at the Ministry of Electronics and IT’s response to the ongoing WhatsApp case.

No Intention to violate the Right of Privacy, says Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEITy)

WhatsApp decided to take the Indian government to court over the new IT rules. The messaging app believes that the new rules end the user’s privacy.

WhatsApp said that requiring messaging apps to trace is equivalent to keeping a fingerprint of every message sent on the app. This would result in breaking end-to-end encryption and would undermine people’s right to privacy.

The MEITy in response said that it has no intention to violate the privacy of Indian citizens. WhatsApp and other platforms are required to disclose the origin of the message only when it is required for prevention, investigation, or punishment of serious offences such as sexually explicit content. It stated that the new media rules are necessary to uphold law and order and also curb fake news.

“WhatsApp’s refusal to comply with the guidelines is a clear act of defiance of a measure whose intent can certainly not be doubted,” MEITy said. “Any operations being run in India are subject to the law of the land. WhatsApp’s refusal to comply with the guidelines is a clear act of defiance of a measure whose intent can certainly not be doubted. As a significant social media intermediary, WhatsApp seeks safe harbour protection as per provisions of the IT Act. However, in a befuddling act, they seek to avoid responsibility and refuse to enact the very steps which permit them a safe harbour provision,” it further added.

It denied WhatsApp claims and said that portraying the new intermediary guidelines as contrary to the right to privacy is misguided. The ministry added that privacy is a fundamental right subject to reasonable restrictions. 

Can WhatsApp work with law enforcement without traceability?

The messaging app says tracing messages is ineffective and highly susceptible to abuse. One could download, copy and paste content from websites or share an article that was emailed to them. This could make them the originator of the message. At another point, someone might copy and paste the same piece of content and send it along to others in an entirely different circumstance.

“Moreover, traceability inverts the way law enforcement typically investigates crimes. In a typical law enforcement request, a government requests technology companies provide account information about a known individual’s account. With traceability, a government would provide a technology company a piece of content and ask who sent it first,” the company said.

WhatsApp’s FAQ states that its team reviews and responds to valid law enforcement requests. “We respond to valid requests by providing the limited categories of information available to us, consistent with applicable law and policy. We also have a team devoted to assisting law enforcement 24/7 with emergencies involving imminent harm or risk of death or serious physical injury. We consistently receive feedback from law enforcement that our responses to requests help solve crimes and bring people to justice,” the FAQ section reads.

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