Union Information and Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday said “ordinary users” of messaging platform WhatsApp have nothing to fear about the new social media rules introduced by the Centre, which came into effect on May 25.
In a statement tweeted on Thursday, Prasad said that the rules aimed at finding out the originator of a message that dealt with offences “relating to sovereignty, integrity and security of India, public order, rape, child sexual abuse”.
His comment came a day after WhatsApp moved the Delhi High Court challenging a provision under the new rules, which mandates the company to identify the “first originator of information” when authorities demand it. In its plea, WhatsApp argued that the provision was unconstitutional and against people’s fundamental right to privacy.
The “Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021” were issued on February 25 to regulate social media companies, streaming and digital news content. The new rules virtually bring these platforms, for the first time, under the ambit of government supervision.
At the time of issuance of the rules, the Centre had given social media and technology companies three months’ time to comply with the new regulations. 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. However, WhatsApp moved court on the same day. In a blog post, published on Tuesday itself, the messaging platform said that allowing “traceability” of messages will be against the end-to-end encryption technology WhatsApp introduced in 2016. Microblogging site Twitter has also said said it was concerned about the “potential threat” to freedom of expression as a result of the new social media rules.
Hours after WhatsApp challenged the new rules, the Centre issued a statement saying that no fundamental right, including the right to privacy, is absolute and added that it is subject to reasonable restrictions. The government called WhatsApp’s legal challenge “a clear act of defiance”.