Messaging platform WhatsApp on Tuesday moved the Delhi High Court challenging a provision under the new social media rules introduced by the Centre, which mandates the company to identify the “first originator of information” when authorities demand it, The Indian Express reported.
In its plea, WhatsApp argued that the provision was unconstitutional and against people’s fundamental right to privacy. The plea, relying on the Supreme Court’s landmark 2017 judgement establishing privacy as a fundamental right, also sought to prevent the provision from coming into force and protection against criminal liability to WhatsApp employees for non-compliance, Bar and Bench reported.
“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,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said, according to the newspaper. “We have consistently joined civil society and experts around the world in opposing requirements that would violate the privacy of our users.”
Significantly, the plea was filed on the same day that marked the end of the three months’ deadline set by the Centre for complying with its new information technology rules.
A sweeping set of rules were issued on February 25 to regulate social media companies, streaming and digital news content. The new rules will virtually bring these platforms, for the first time, under the ambit of government supervision.
Among other things, the “Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021”, the regulations mandated that social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter, Signal and Facebook will now have to give details about the origin of a tweet or a message on being asked by either a court or a government authority. The regulation also requires social media companies to set up a three-tier grievance redressal framework.
As the deadline approached its expiry on Tuesday, WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook and technology firm Google issued statements saying they were aiming to comply with the rules. The statements came after reports emerged that big technology companies like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were yet to comply with the rules.
In a blog post published on Wednesday, WhatsApp sought to justify its stand against “traceability” of messages, which it said “some governments were seeking to force”. The messaging platform said that allowing “traceability” will be against the end-to-end encryption technology WhatsApp introduced in 2016.
“Traceability is intended to do the opposite by requiring private messaging services like WhatsApp to keep track of who-said-what and who-shared-what for billions of messages sent every day,” the post stated. “...In order to trace even one message, services would have to trace every message...In doing so, a government that chooses to mandate traceability is effectively mandating a new form of mass surveillance.”
The post also noted that the threat that anything someone writes can be traced back to them would have a “chilling effect”, besides taking away privacy of users.