India’s IT Rules undermine user security, says WhatsApp CEO- Will Cathcart

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WhatsApp CEO says,

“India’s IT Rules undermine user security”.

According to India’s revised information technology guidelines that require a technology platform to trace the origin of flagged messages, “End-to-end encryption undermines the security provided”. WhatsApp CEO told the technology publication The Verge on Monday that the decision could see more countries around the world. 

He explained, “With the IT rules in India, the specific thing is that those rules require you to build some system to comply. If someone comes up to us and says, “Hey, someone said the words ‘XYZ.’ Tell us who the first person is who said the words XYZ.” That’s not private. And it undermines the security that end-to-end encryption provides.”

WhatsApp: Indian IT rules undermine rights to privacy

WhatsApp has challenged the new revised IT Rules, stating that user privacy is in its DNA, and requiring various messaging apps to trace chats undermines the right of privacy of the people. On May 26, WhatsApp has already filed a lawsuit against the IT rules in Delhi High Court. One of the spokespersons for the world’s largest messaging app stated that if you are tracing the chats from the messaging apps is equivalent to asking for a fingerprint on every single message that is sent on WhatsApp. 

When asked about the nature of the move being a political agenda and limited to India only,

Cathcart said,

“I think it’s a political question and a technical question. The way they wrote the rules, and what they’ve said, is that they only want it to apply to people in India. But I think there’s a broader political question”.

He raised a major concern, that other countries may follow the same suit, “ the more some countries see other countries do it or push it, the more they want to push for it, too”, he added. 

India’s new IT requires significant social intermediaries, which have five million registered users to be compliant, nodal and grievance offers with the residents of the country. Messaging various platforms like WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal need to track down the origin of the messages to be sent to their services. 

On 26 May, WhatsApp filed a lawsuit against the IT rules in Delhi High Court, saying the traceability clause harms people’s right to privacy. 

According to the Economic Times reports in September, the government was bent towards its position in favor of traceability and had made it clear that the social media platforms like WhatsApp and messenger need to rebuild their platforms if there is a need to help trace the origins of the law-making messages by the law enforcement agencies. 

Courtesy- The Economic Times

Saving Encryptions

According to the experts, WhatsApp has some serious and deep reservations about searchability under IT rules. The Facebook-owned company is pending a petition in the Delhi High Court, “which is limited to the challenge of the need to change the product of the platform, so that it is consistent, especially searchable,” according to Apar Gupta, executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation. 

It is very important to note that no other platform, has ever approached the courts directly to challenge the constitutionality of central government rules, regulations, especially in terms of content control. 

In an interview with Verge, he further added, “ I think 10 years from now, our lives will be even more online. Our more sensitive data will be online. There will be more sophisticated hackers, spyware companies, hostile governments, criminals trying to gain access to it. And not having the best security means information is stolen. I think it has real consequences for a free society”.

Final Thoughts 

India has said that traceability has nothing to do with breaking “end-to-end encryption”. However, while stressing the requirement of traceability, 

the government states,

“ it is very much possible to assume that there is a requirement for national security and law and order in the country”.

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Vishakha Puniyani
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