WhatsApp sues Indian government, says new media rules mean an end to privacy

WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit in the Delhi High Court against the Indian government’s new digital rules that come into effect today, saying these would compel it to break privacy protections to users.

WhatsApp filed its petition on Tuesday against the rules that demand it to “trace” the first origin of information sent on the service. The petition seeks the HC to declare that one of the new rules is a violation of privacy rights under the constitution of India since it requires social media companies to identify the “first originator of information” when authorities require it.

While the law demands WhatsApp to unmask only people accused of wrongdoing, the company, which has about 400 million users in India, says it cannot do that alone in practice, as the messages on its platform are end-to-end encrypted, so it would have break encryption for those who send and receive messages to comply with the law.

According to Reuters, WhatsApp’s petition cites a 2017 Supreme Court ruling that said privacy must be preserved except in cases where legality, necessity, and proportionality all weighed against it.

Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter were given three months to comply with the new rules that mandate them to appoint a compliance officer in India, put up an offense response mechanism, and remove content within 36 hours of the legal order. The sites are also asked to use automated processes to take down derogatory content.

The government had also insisted several tech companies remove what it has depicted as misinformation on the Covid-19 crisis plundering India and criticism of the government’s response to the pandemic, which claims thousands of lives daily.

The Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code says, “significant social media intermediaries” stand to lose security from lawsuits and criminal prosecution if they fail to comply with the code. It means they can no longer claim legal immunity from what is posted on their site.

While WhatsApp, its parent Facebook, and other tech rivals have heavily invested in India, the companies officials concern that increasingly heavy-handed regulation by the Modi government could endanger those possibilities.

Meanwhile, Facebook said it complies with most of the provisions, but it is still looking to negotiate some points. Twitter, which comes under the most fire for failing to remove posts by government critics, declined to comment.

Journalists also claim the extension of technology regulations to digital publishers and the enforcement of decency and taste standards is unsupported by the fundamental law.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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