WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit against the Indian government to prevent the implementation of new rules that will require instant messaging platforms to identify the “originator” of messages when authorities demand it. The new rules will take effect on Wednesday and will require instant messaging platforms to identify the “originator” of messages when authorities demand it.
On the 25th of May, the plea was filed in the Delhi High Court, just one day before the new rules take effect.
“Forcing messaging platforms to ‘trace’ chats is the equivalent of asking us to store a fingerprint of every single message transmitted on WhatsApp, which would breach end-to-end encryption and severely undermine people’s right to privacy,” a WhatsApp spokeswoman stated.
The corporation would continue to work with the Indian government “on practical solutions targeted at keeping people safe,” according to the spokeswoman, “including responding to genuine legal requests for the information we have.”
This was in response to new recommendations issued by India’s Information Technology Act in February to govern social networking businesses, streaming services, and digital news material. The Indian government has been chastised for the laws, which some believe will bring these platforms under government control and compromise user rights such as end-to-end encryption.
According to the new guidelines, “social media intermediaries offering services largely in the nature of messaging” must be able to identify the first source of information if authorities so request.
According to the laws, an order in this regard can only be issued in cases involving India’s sovereignty and integrity, state security, public order, foreign relations, rape, or sexually explicit material.
According to The Indian Express, WhatsApp has stated in its case that the traceability provision is illegal and violates people’s fundamental right to privacy, citing a Supreme Court decision from 2017. It has requested the court to put an end to the practice.
“A government that chooses to impose traceability is effectively legislating a new form of mass surveillance,” the report continues. To comply, messaging services would have to store massive databases of every communication you send, or apply a permanent identifying stamp — similar to a fingerprint — to private chats with friends, family, coworkers, doctors, and businesses.”
WhatsApp, which has almost 400 million users in India, claims that corporations would then collect more information about their users at a time when people want them to know less about them.
Nikhil Pahwa, a digital rights activist and the creator of Medianama, described the significance of the WhatsApp case in a series of tweets.
“WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption,” he explained. This does not imply that they are unaware of the contents of our messages. It also implies they have no idea who sent which communication.
“They can only see the content of a message if it is labelled as spam, in which case the user who marked it as spam unencrypts it for WhatsApp to see.”
He further claims that in order for WhatsApp to be able to identify the source of even a single message, the entire platform would have to be redesigned.