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WhatsApp says it will leave India if forced to break end-to-end encryption

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WhatsApp has informed the Delhi High Court that it would cease operations in India if compelled to compromise message encryption during the ongoing case of WhatsApp LLC vs. Union of India. The online messaging platform argues that end-to-end encryption safeguards user privacy by allowing only the sender and recipient to access message content.

Tejas Karia, appearing for WhatsApp, told a Division Bench in New Delhi:

"As a platform, we are saying, if we are told to break encryption, then WhatsApp goes.

There is no such rule anywhere else in the world, not even Brazil. We will have to keep a complete chain and we don't know which messages will be asked to be decrypted. It means millions and millions of messages will have to be stored for a number of years".

Karia added that people use WhatsApp for the privacy feature it offers, and the service has more than 400 million users in India, which also makes the country the largest market for the platform.

The Meta-owned company challenges the Information Technology Rules of 2021 in India (PDF, via LiveLaw.in), which mandate tracing chats and identifying message originators for security reasons, such as curbing the spread of fake news. WhatsApp says that this weakens encryption and infringes on user privacy rights under the Indian Constitution.

Since then, WhatsApp has also published an explainer that highlights how the demand for message traceability, without explicitly naming the Indian government, violates human rights.

The IT Rules, 2021 were introduced by the Central Government of India to govern social media intermediaries and digital media platforms. These rules stem from section 87 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, and aim to place obligations on intermediaries to ensure an open, safe, and trusted internet in India.

The rules require intermediaries, like WhatsApp, to inform users of platform rules, prevent prohibited content, appoint compliance officers, establish grievance redressal mechanisms, and identify the originators of information. However, critics argue that these rules could potentially infringe on free speech by imposing restrictions on content removal, lack clarity on the definition of intermediaries, and raise issues regarding the calculation of user numbers.

Organizations like the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) have also raised concerns that the rules significantly undermine privacy rights in the country and interfere with the right to freedom of speech and expression.

Via The Times of India

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