Govt Hits Back At WhatsApp, Says No Intention To Violate Right To Privacy The government highlighted that any operations run in India are subject to the law of land and WhatsApp's refusal to comply with the guidelines is a "clear act of defiance of a measure whose intent can certainly not be doubted"

By Debarghya Sil

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Hours after popular messaging platform WhatsApp filed a lawsuit against the Indian government, the ministry of electronics and IT (MeitY) has hit back at the messaging platform. In a statement released, MeitY said, "The government respects the Right of Privacy and has no Intention to violate it when WhatsApp is required to disclose the origin of a particular message."

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.

In its response, the ministry said such an order, to trace first originator, under Rule 4(2) of the said guidelines shall be passed only for the purposes of prevention, investigation, punishment etc. of inter alia an offence relating to sovereignty, integrity and security of India, public order incitement to an offence relating to rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for not less than five years.

The ministry stated that it is in public interest that whoever started the mischief leading to such crime must be detected and punished.

"We cannot deny as to how in cases of mob lynching and riots etc. repeated WhatsApp messages are circulated and recirculated whose content are already in public domain. Hence the role of who originated is very important," it added.

The ministry lashed at the popular messaging platform saying that since October 2018, no specific objection has been made by WhatsApp to the government in writing relating to the requirement to trace the first originator in relation to serious offences.

"WhatsApp's challenge, at the very last moment, and despite having sufficient time and opportunity available during consultation process and after the rules were enacted, to the Intermediary Guidelines is an unfortunate attempt to prevent the same from coming into effect," the ministry observed.

The government highlighted that any operations run in India are subject to the law of land and WhatsApp's refusal to comply with the guidelines is a "clear act of defiance of a measure whose intent can certainly not be doubted."

The ministry underlined that WhatsApp is trying to implement its privacy policy update where it will share details of users with its parent company, Facebook for marketing but is trying every effort to refuse to enact the Intermediary Guidelines. It further stated that it is the responsibility of social platforms to protect users' privacy through various technologies, be it encryption or others.

The ministry further pointed out that certain governments of the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada issued a communique, concluding that: "tech companies should include mechanisms in the design of their encrypted products and services whereby governments, acting with appropriate legal authority, can gain access to data in a readable and usable format."

It also observed that Brazilian law enforcement is looking for WhatsApp to provide suspects' IP addresses, customer information, geo-location data and physical messages.'

Debarghya Sil

Entrepreneur Staff

Former Correspondent

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