Contentious privacy policy of WhatsApp

We moved to a generation from text messages to WhatsApp messages. Since mid- 2010 WhatsApp has gained popularity among Indians. 

Now in 2021 WhatsApp has its largest market in India with 390.1 million users monthly active rate, data provided by eMarketer.

On May 25, 20021 WhatsApp moved to the Delhi High Court for not being able to comply with the new IT rules introduced by the Ministry of Electronics and InformationTechnology, India.

What does the New IT rule say?

According to Rule 4(1) of the new IT rules, 2021,  “The social media intermediaries bearing more than 5 Million registered users in India, were given three months time period to comply with the guidelines by creating a remedial three-tier system for the due diligence.

The rule also provides that there will be a Chief Compliance Officer, a Nodal Officer, and a resident grievance officer, all residing in India to ensure compliance to the new rules made.

According to Rule, 4(2) of the new IT rules 2021, “the social media intermediaries primarily in the nature of messaging, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram, etc. shall enable the feature that will identify the first originator of the information on its computer resources as it can be made accessible by a judicial order by a competent judicial court.” It is also known as the Traceability Clause.

Though WhatsApp is a primarily messaging natured App with a lot more than 5 million registered users in India, it has to meet the new guidelines by tracing the originators of problematic messages whenever asked by a competent judicial court. 

The purpose is to control the spreading of fake information by identifying the first generator. This rule intends to help in the investigation processes.

The government argues that this rule will be implemented to maintain law and order in the country by ensuring its national security. The government guarantees not to hamper the privacy of all of its citizens rather it will prevent, detect, investigate, prosecute or punish the wrongdoer in offenses affecting the sovereignty and integrity of India.

Rule 4(2) can also be used to detect the offenses relating to friendly relations with foreign countries, public order, rape, sexually explicit material or child abuse material, or any kind of incitement to all the aforesaid offenses that can be punishable for a period of no less than five years of imprisonment.

Moreover, this traceability clause is the last resort to be taken by the Central Government. The concerned social media intermediaries do not require to disclose all of the conversations but finding that exact problematic message. So, Upon the judicial order, WhatsApp has to search for the problematic message in the conversation threads but it will not be asked to disclose any information relating to any other users or any other information of the first originator.

Claims by WhatsApp?

However, WhatsApp is not ready to accept the conditions imposed by the Indian Government. 

Since the year 2016 WhatsApp is using end-to-end encryption in which the conversation between two people is limited to only those two, not even WhatsApp is allowed to know about the conversation. It is also the same with location sharing, the people with who you share your location, no third party has knowledge about this.

According to WhatsApp, groups remain private. Neither WhatsApp nor Facebook has access to any personal chats, call records, location sharing, contacts, and group chats.

The Traceability Clause by the Indian Government and End-to-end encryption by WhatsApp are contradictory to each other. WhatsApp argued that the Traceability Clause, finding the First originator of a problematic message is going to disrupt the “right to privacy” of citizens. 

In order to look for that one message, WhatsApp has to go through the whole of the conversation thread. 

In its blog, WhatsApp states that this is a human rights violation. It may happen, innocent people go behind the bars and suffer. What if someone downloaded a piece of forwarded information or image from Gmail and forwarded it to friend(s) to check its accuracy or out of concern? That person becomes the first generator in the eyes of Law, whereas in reality, he had just outsourced.

WhatsApp also raised concern over misusing the new privacy policy. WhatsApp said that it does not know what the government may want to investigate in the future.

Current footing of the matter

WhatsApp has submitted its first report complying with new IT Rules for the period 15th May to 15th June. During this period the issues raised by the users were heard and WhatsApp banned 2Millions accounts reporting abuses.

Do you think social media platforms taking responsibility to ensure user safety is essential in current times?

featured image credit: Alexander Shatov


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