WhatsApp filed a court challenge against the Indian government on Tuesday, protesting new IT rules that would require messaging services to trace the origin of specific messages before the Delhi High Court.
“Asking us to preserve a fingerprint of every single communication transmitted on WhatsApp would breach end-to-end encryption and fundamentally harm people’s right to privacy,” a WhatsApp representative stated.
“We have repeatedly stood with civil society and experts throughout the world in opposing regulations that would jeopardise our users’ privacy.” Meanwhile, we will continue to work with the Indian government on practical ways to keep people safe, including responding to genuine legal requests for the information we have,” the spokesperson stated.
Under the recently notified Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, social media intermediaries with more than 5 million users and messaging services will be required to enable the identification of the original author of problematic content that may harm the country’s interests, among other measures.
This will be required of the social media intermediary in response to a judicial order issued by a court or competent authority under section 69 of the IT Act.
“Provided also that, if the first originator of any information on an intermediary’s computer resource is located outside India’s territory, the first originator of that information within India’s territory shall be deemed to be the first originator of the information for the purposes of this clause,” the rule states.
WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, has previously stated that it will not breach encryption because it jeopardises its customers’ privacy. With over 400 million users, India is WhatsApp’s largest market.
By mandating private messaging systems like WhatsApp to keep track of who said what and who shared what for billions of messages transmitted every day, “traceability” undermines consumer privacy. Traceability necessitates messaging providers storing information that can be used to determine the content of people’s messages, hence jeopardising the end-to-end encryption guarantees.
In order to trace even one communication, services would have to trace all of them,” WhatsApp wrote in a blog post outlining why it opposed traceability.