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WhatsApp to face Indian government in court battle

Facebook owed WhatsApp is suing the Indian government over new digital laws that will force the messaging service to violate privacy protections. WhatsApp said new rules that require it to trace the origin of chats were the equivalent of keeping a “fingerprint of every single message sent on the service”.

In February, the Indian government introduced new rules to regulate any content on social media or streaming platforms. India is WhatsApp’s largest market with about 400 million active users.

The new government rules for social media say that messaging platforms would need to be able to show data for the “identification of the first originator of the information”. 

WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit in the high court in Delhi asking it to declare the new law unconstitutional. A WhatsApp spokesperson said that the rules “would break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermine people’s right to privacy”.

“We have consistently joined civil society and experts around the world in opposing requirements that would violate the privacy of our users. In the meantime, we will also continue to engage with the government of India on practical solutions aimed at keeping people safe, including responding to valid legal requests for the information available to us,” WhatsApp said. 

The messaging service has claimed that traceability of texts would force private companies to collect and store billions of messages sent each day for the sole purpose of turning it over to law enforcement agencies upon request. The data collection rules is open ended meaning that the messages would need to be stored indefinitely meaning trillions of messages would be stored.

Would the information be accurate

It also says that it would be impossible to understand the context and origin of a many message as people generally see content on other social media platforms or websites and add them into chats. This could lead to tracing of message origins being susceptible to error or abuse.

On 25 February, the Indian government also rolled out sweeping regulations for social media and video streaming platforms, requiring them to remove any content flagged by authorities within 36 hours of notification.

Social media platforms with more than five million users are required to appoint a compliance officer, a nodal contact officer and a resident grievance officer. In addition, they would have to track the originator of any particular message if asked by a court or the government.

Platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp were given three months to comply with these rules. However, the Indian Express newspaper reported that Facebook, Instagram and Twitter had not appointed officers as government regulations dictated.

The case will be heard in the high court later in 2021.