WhatsApp goes to Court in India over Privacy Rules; Global Implications
The Indian Government has recently set out new regulations asking social media companies to allow them to have more visibility and the ability to trace when it comes to private messaging and the content sources of certain posts, in a bid to stop the spread of misinformation and possible harmful images relating especially to Covid-19 and the handling of it from the government. WhatsApp has challenged these new requirements in a legal manner, which is incredibly rare for them to do. This is mainly because WhatsApp ensures the billions of users over the world that their end-to-end encryption keeps their personal information and conversations private, having this broken in India (a country which over 400 million of their users reside) would mean users in other countries could suffer from this and could possibly lead to real life harm.
“Civil society and technical experts around the world have consistently argued that a requirement to ‘trace’ private messages would break end-to-end encryption and lead to real abuse. WhatsApp is committed to protecting the privacy of people’s personal messages and we will continue to do all we can within the laws of India to do so,” WhatsApp said in a statement.
Before the regulations became the law this year, India had suggested that WhatsApp modify their software to allow them to trace the original sender of a message in 2018. This came about during a time when false information was causing actual casualties to those who circulated it. Since the new laws surrounding IT in India have been proposed, many citizens have vowed to switch to other platforms such as Telegram if their privacy is encroached upon.
Media giants such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter have been at loggerheads with the Indian Government in recent months, ordering them to take down content that were condemning the way the Prime Minister Narendra Modi handled the coronavirus pandemic.
Also, Twitter was called out for labelling some Indian politicians’ tweets as “manipulated media” and refused to block these, police turned up at their Indian headquarters to serve a legal notice, although it was originally described as a raid. Over 200 Chinese owned apps such as clothing company SHEIN, WeChat and TikTok were blocked in India last year as they posed a threat to defence of India and national security.
The new terms of social media in India and the current lawsuit between the government and WhatsApp could mean the end of end-to-end encryption in the country and could leave citizens without a reliable and private way of communicating digitally.
“Traceability will compel end-to-end encrypted platforms to alter their architecture in a way that will negatively impact online privacy and security. They will have to develop the ability to track who sent which message to whom, and store this information indefinitely,” says Namrata Maheshwari, technology policy advocate. “This is an onerous obligation that severely undermines end-to-end encryption and puts users’ privacy, security, and freedom of expression at risk.”
Reasonable rules and regulations are required for apps like WhatsApp and Signal to protect people, but going against human rights to privacy and security is something that will be disputed more often than not. These types of companies often have dedicated teams to review and respond to requests regarding certain practices, and assisting law enforcement when instances involving imminent danger or harm are involved in order to make the communication platforms as safe as possible without undermining users’ privacy.
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