The new Indian IT rules are coming under flak about the traceability of the first originator of a message. After WhatsApp sued the Indian government, we know that the government is asking WhatsApp and other messengers to track the messages.
While that’s the crux of it, it is certainly not the entire picture. WhatsApp is concerned about Rule 4(2) which tells it to ‘enable the identification of the first originator of the information.’ According to the company, this traceability will compromise its end-to-end encryption.
The case also put a halt to the rumored Facebook and Twitter ban that was heavily trending on social media just days ago. So should you be concerned about the IT Rules asking for Traceability? To understand that, we went through the entire document, and here’s what we found.
What is traceability?
Forcing technology and social media companies to find out the sender of a particular message on private messaging services is called “traceability.”
Myths And Facts About Traceability In IT Rules
Assuming that you went through the infographic above, let me clarify the situation further. The IT rules ask for traceability of the originator of a message, not of their message. However, once the originator is detained, there’s nothing in the rules that prevent the government from reading the chats on the person’s phone.
Other than that, the government cannot ask WhatsApp or any other messaging service for your chats. Another safeguard in the rules limits the use of traceability to situations that threaten national security.
However, according to the latest data, there were 190 cases of sedition (threat to national security) cases under investigation in 2018. Out of these, only 2 have been convicted. This means the government used excessive force to detain the people charged with it, but never convicted.
Finally, we have the matter of encryption vs traceability. While the government can’t ask companies for your chats, allowing traceability will open back doors for security threats. Simply put, if WhatsApp can track you for the government, then a capable hacker can also do it.
Are The IT Rules Perfect?
Not at all. But these are comprehensive guidelines that need to be worked upon. WhatsApp-related fake news and rumors have led to deaths. Every day, we come across at least one misinforming WhatsApp message.
With these IT rules, at least something can be done about this. On the flip side, the government’s misuse of traceability can prove dangerous for journalists and activists. India is already struggling with its Press freedom index ranking, the last thing we need are rules that muzzle it further.
While a full analysis of these rules is due from our end, the traceability aspect of IT rules comes down to their implementation and making the intermediary, like WhatsApp, strong enough to stand against the government if they think traceability is being misused.
End of the day, traceability weakens the privacy of everyone because tracking the originator means retracing his steps. It’s also safe to assume that government knows that implementing traceability will force WhatsApp and Twitter to add backdoors to their services. In the name of middle ground, we have the option of strengthening social media companies, and for out and out privacy, we have the option of scrapping this rule altogether.