WhatsApp Takes Indian Govt To Delhi HC Against New IT Guidelines

Facebook-owned WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit in the court saying that one of the new guidelines will force WhatsApp to break protection to users
WhatsApp Takes Indian Govt To Delhi HC Against New IT Guidelines
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Popular messaging platform WhatsApp has knocked the gates of Delhi High Court against the Indian government’s new digital rules that are in place starting Wednesday. According to media reports, Facebook-owned WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit in the court saying that one of the new guidelines will force WhatsApp to break protection to users.

As per the new “Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules, 2021” that have come in place today, the government has asked significant social media platforms with messassing features to enable identification of the first originator of information that is required only for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to sovereignty and integrity of India, and others.

However, the messaging platform has claimed that messages on WhatsApp are end-to-end encrypted, so to unmask the originator, the company will have to break encryption for those who have sent and received messages, thus calling it a threat to users’ privacy.

As per a statement, WhatsApp has said,“Requiring messaging apps to 'trace' chats is the equivalent of asking us to keep a fingerprint of every single message sent on WhatsApp, which would break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermines people's right to privacy."

“We have consistently joined civil society and experts around the world in opposing requirements that would violate the privacy of our users. In the meantime, we will also continue to engage with the government of India on practical solutions aimed at keeping people safe, including responding to valid legal requests for the information available to us.”

Reportedly WhatsApp has invoked 2017 Justice KS Puttaswamy vs Union of India case where the Supreme Court has underlined that privacy must be preserved except in cases where legality, necessity and proportionality all weighed against it. The verdict had then declared traceability unconstitutional. 

“WhatsApp has done what every company must do if they care about end to end encryption and privacy. The IT rules notified by the government are unconstitutional. In the garb of addressing misinformation and regulating technology companies, GoI has been exceeding the powers granted through subordinate legislation and using it for political purposes as is evident from the recent Twitter fracas. This is exactly the reason why the Free and Open Source Software community challenged these rules in the Kerala High Court. Technology companies need regulation but not at the expense of user rights,” Mishi Choudhary, a technology lawyer with a law practice in New York and New Delhi, told Entrepreneur India.

Needless to say WhatsApp has been receiving flak from users and governments all across the world for its controversial policy update. Until last week, during a hearing in Delhi High Court the Centre had asked WhatsApp to roll back its policy update that undermines the sacrosanct values of informational privacy, data security and user choice for Indian users and harms the rights and interests of Indian citizens.

The guidelines also ask social media platforms to appoint a chief compliance officer who shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and Rules and a nodal contact person for 24x7 coordination with law enforcement agencies and a resident grievance officer who shall perform the functions mentioned under grievance redressal mechanism. Grievance officer shall acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours and resolve it within 15 days from its receipt.

While  Facebook has agreed to comply with certain guidelines and is looking to negotiate with the government on certain guidelines. Twitter, which has been making headlines after it marked BJP leader Sambit Patra’s tweet on “Congress Toolkit” as manipulated media, has not commented yet.

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