Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp has sued the Indian government over privacy concerns in the new IT rules. Reuters has reported that the case is filed in the Delhi High Court.
WhatsApp hasn’t officially commented on the news, but we saw this coming as the deadline approached. While Facebook accepted the new rules, this court case could derail any plans of the government trying to ban social media sites for non-compliance.
Why Did WhatsApp Sue The Indian Government?
According to the reports, WhatsApp sued the Indian government over privacy concerns. We can point out the particular rule under Part 2 of the guidelines. This part talks about ‘due diligence by intermediaries.’
Under Part II Section 5(2), it is mentioned that “social media intermediary providing services primarily in the nature of messaging shall enable the identification of the first originator of the information”.
In simple words, the government can ask WhatsApp or any other messenger to track the origin of a message. While there are safeguards in place to prevent misuse of this power, the rules have emergency protocols to bypass those safeguards.
Simplifying further, the government wants WhatsApp to track down users on-demand. WhatsApp sued the government because this can’t be done without breaking encryption.
Win-Win For Facebook
If WhatsApp wins this case, the Government will have to at least amend or completely redact the new rules. That way, the company will gain back some of its lost reputation.
On the flip side, if it loses, then Facebook has already complied with the rules and can have WhatsApp ready in no time. It is so because Facebook will already have complied and can pass on the structure to WhatsApp. Not to mention the court case buys more time for other affected parties (social media, OTT, digital news outlets) to build their case.
As for Facebook and Twitter getting banned in India, that sounds like borderline fake news. It is so because it’s already 12 hours past the deadline, and they’re working well.
What did the government say?
Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has issued a statement on WhatsApp suing the government of India. The minister has called WhatsApp’s non-compliance as a ‘clear act of defiance.’ He added that the ministry respects everyone’s right to privacy.
The minister further said that “none of the measures proposed by India will impact the normal functioning of WhatsApp in any manner whatsoever and for the common users, there will be no impact.” However, he failed to mention anything about end-to-end encryption being compromised in such a situation and creating possible backdoors for cyber-criminals.
Stating WhatsApp to be entirely responsible for maintaining privacy, the minister added that “Whether Right to Privacy is ensured through using encryption technology or some other technology is entirely the purview of the social media intermediary”. So it is clear that the government isn’t willing to provide a technical framework, but surely looking to enforce a legal one.
Lastly, the statement points out how WhatsApp is breaching user’s privacy by sharing data with Facebook. In that regard too, the remarks at best, sound lost. While data sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook breaches privacy, it doesn’t compromise the security of personal chats.
All in all, it sounds like WhatsApp suing the Government of India has attracted the latter’s wrath over the ‘defiance.’ The statement just confirms that WhatsApp has sued the Government and the matter will now be in court.
The WhatsApp case against the government of India points out at Rule 4(2), saying it will infringe upon the user’s right to freedom of speech and expression. It has also argued that the rule violates the user’s right to privacy as well.
Rule 4(2) is what makes the provisions for rule 5(2) that we pointed out in the previous version of the story. The company added that the rules also violate Section 69A and 79(2). In simple words, WhatsApp has sued the government for asking too much in the name of ‘due diligence,’ ultimately compromising the privacy net of encrypted messages.