WhatsApp sues Indian government over new Intermediary Guidelines

Stock image of the WhatsApp logo

WhatsApp has sued the Indian government in New Delhi over new Intermediary Guidelines that go into effect today. Yesterday, we reported that failure to follow the new guidelines may result in a social media ban in India but as the guidelines went into effect today, WhatsApp has taken the government to court (via Reuters).

The Facebook-owned IM giant alleges that the new guidelines are a violation of privacy rights in India. The guidelines require WhatsApp to allow the government to track the owner of a message, and has been added to help with the crackdown of fake news on the platform. However, WhatsApp notes that it cannot just unmask a single user and that going around its end-to-end encryption will be the violation of user privacy. According to Indian Express, WhatsApp has cited the 2017 Justice K S Puttaswamy vs Union Of India case to argue the traceability provision. Furthermore, the company has also published a FAQ page explaining how traceability provision will break the end-to-end encryption.

“Traceability” is intended to do the opposite by requiring private messaging services like WhatsApp to keep track of who-said-what and who-shared-what for billions of messages sent every day. Traceability requires messaging services to store information that can be used to ascertain the content of people’s messages, thereby breaking the very guarantees that end-to-end encryption provides. In order to trace even one message, services would have to trace every message.

WhatsApp also talked about violation of human rights as the company points out that the new rules could lead to innocent people getting jailed just because they shared a particular message out of curiosity or to check its authenticity. Lastly, the firm also notes that there is no way of predicting what message a government may want to investigate so private companies will have to unmask every message and "in doing so, a government that chooses to mandate traceability is effectively mandating a new form of mass surveillance."

So far, experts seem to agree with WhatsApp's justification. In March, Stanford Internet Observatory scholar Riana Pfefferkorn wrote, "The new traceability and filtering requirements may put an end to end-to-end encryption in India. The revised intermediary rules put the whole country’s security at risk. Amid a global backsliding for internet freedom, the proposal may offer an example for other would-be authoritarians to follow."

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