WhatsApp Threatens to Exit India if Forced to Break Encryption

WhatsApp Indian court
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In Short
  • WhatsApp is locked in a legal battle with the Indian government with a petition against the rule 4(2) of the Information Technology Rules, 2021.
  • The disputed rule would require WhatsApp to identify the originators of messages, which the company argues will break end-to-end encryption and user privacy.
  • The Indian government maintains this law is crucial to combat the spread of misinformation and a decision could be expected by August 14.

WhatsApp needs no introduction as it is the biggest messaging platform in the subcontinent. However, the platform has petitioned against rule 4(2) of the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. WhatsApp has warned the court that it will exit India if asked to adhere to the rule.

For those unaware, rule 4(2) of this act states that a significant social media app or website should allow the Indian authorities to identify the first originator of the information. Advocate Tejas Karia, who appeared for WhatsApp said the company will adhere strictly to its privacy values and preserve end-to-end encryptions. And if asked to do otherwise, WhatsApp would exit India.

“As a platform, we are saying, if we are told to break encryption, then WhatsApp goes,” Mr. Karia told the Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Arora.

WhatsApp legal court
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Adding to that, Mr. Karia said the rule would require WhatsApp to “store millions of messages for years”. He added, “We will have to keep a complete chain, and we don’t know which messages will be asked to be decrypted. It means millions of messages will have to be stored for a number of years”.

Perhaps what Mr. Karia was referring to is WhatsApp’s inability to store messages. Since the app uses Google Drive on Android and iCloud on iOS, WhatsApp wouldn’t technically need to store the messages. The Indian government says the law will be useful to track down the spread of fake information.

The Indian court will determine by August 14 whether the government’s need for information outweighs WhatsApp’s user privacy. WhatsApp released a statement earlier saying, “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”.

What are your thoughts on this? Would you want WhatsApp to adhere to its rules or keep track of every message to prevent misinformation from spreading? What would happen if WhatsApp exits India? Let us know in the comments below.

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