WhatsApp has sued the government over new digital rules that it says violate user privacy and the fundamental right to freedom of speech. It argues strongly against breaking end-to-end encryption and tracing the “first originator” of information.
Here are the key points from its petition:
The Facebook-owned messaging service, which has nearly 400 million users in India, filed its petition on Tuesday in the Delhi High Court against the rules that will require it to “trace” the origin of messages sent on the service.
The petition asks the High Court to declare that one of the new rules is a violation of privacy under the constitution of India since it requires social media sites to identify the “first originator of information” when asked for it.
The petition points out that end-to-end encryption enables journalists, civil society organizations, members of ethnic or religious groups, activists, scholars, and artists to exercise their right to freedom of speech and expression “without fear of surveillance or retaliation”. End-to-end encryption ensures that nobody other than the receiver can see the message.
“Enabling the identification of the first originator of information in India on end-to-end encrypted platforms like WhatsApp is a much more serious invasion of privacy than requiring businesses to film public behaviour in public areas, as WhatsApp was designed to facilitate the exchange of private communications,” the petition says.
“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,” WhatsApp says. The company also says it will continue to engage with the government on practical solutions aimed at keeping people safe, “including responding to valid legal requests for the information available to us”.
Traceability would force private companies to collect and store who-said-what and who-shared-what for billions of messages sent each day, says WhatsApp. This means collecting more data than they need only for the purpose of turning it over to law enforcement agencies. The rule will also affect WhatsApp alternatives like signal and telegram.
Platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter were given three months to comply with the new digital rules that require them to appoint a compliance officer in India, set up a grievance response mechanism and take down content within 36 hours of a legal order. The sites are also required to use automated processes to take down offensive content.
The Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code says “significant social media intermediaries” or sites that host third party information, messages and posts stand to lose protection from lawsuits and prosecution if they fail to comply. This means they can no longer claim legal immunity from what is posted on their site.
Google on Tuesday cited its “long history” of managing content according to local laws to assure the Indian government of its continuing efforts to ensure legal compliance. Facebook said it “aims to comply” with the new rules but added that it wants to discuss some “issues which need more engagement”.
Twitter is yet to comment; it is caught in the “Congress toolkit” tweet controversy and finds itself on the radar of the government and Delhi Police for marking a BJP leader’s post as “manipulated media”.