EXCLUSIVE WhatsApp sues India govt, says new media guidelines imply finish to privateness
WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit against the Indian government in Delhi to block the entry into force of the rules that will come into force on Wednesday. According to experts, the California-based Facebook (FB.O) unit would be forced to breach privacy protection.
The case, which was described to Reuters by people he knew, calls on the Delhi Supreme Court to state that one of the new rules is a violation of privacy rights in the Indian Constitution, given that social media companies are the “first author of.” Information “must be identified when authorities request it.
While the law requires WhatsApp to only expose people who are credibly accused of wrongdoing, the company says that in practice it cannot do it on its own. Since messages are end-to-end encrypted, WhatsApp would, according to the law, interrupt the encryption of recipients and “senders” of messages.
Reuters, which first reported the story on Wednesday, failed to independently confirm that WhatsApp, which has nearly 400 million users in India, had filed the complaint in court, nor when it might have been examined by the court. Those with knowledge of the matter declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the problem.
A WhatsApp spokesman declined to comment.
A government official said WhatsApp could find a way to track down the perpetrators of disinformation, a long-standing stance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, and that the company would not be asked to break the encryption.
The Indian Ministry of Technology did not respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit escalates a growing battle between the Modi government and tech giants like Facebook, Google’s parenting alphabet (togetL.O) and Twitter (TWTR.N) in one of their key global growth markets.
Tensions mounted after police visited Twitter’s offices earlier this week. The microblogging service had flagged posts by a spokesman for the dominant party and others as containing “manipulated media” and claimed it contained falsified content.
The government has also urged tech companies to remove not only the misinformation labeled as misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic in India, but also some criticism of the government’s response to the crisis, which kills thousands every day.
Businesses’ reaction to the new rules has been the subject of intense speculation since it was revealed in February, 90 days before it was scheduled to take effect.
The Intermediary Guidelines issued by the Indian Ministry of Technology and the Code of Ethics for Digital Media provide that “major social media intermediaries” lose protection from lawsuits and criminal prosecution if they fail to comply with the code.
WhatsApp, its parent company Facebook, and tech competitors have all invested heavily in India. But company officials privately fear that increasingly strict regulation by the Modi government could jeopardize these prospects.
The new rules include requirements that large social media companies must appoint Indian citizens to key compliance duties, remove content within 36 hours of a jurisdiction, and put in place a mechanism to respond to complaints. You also need to use automated processes to remove pornography.
Facebook has stated that it agrees with most of the provisions but is still trying to negotiate some aspects. Twitter, which has come under the most attack for failing to remove posts from government critics, declined to comment.
Some in the industry are hoping for a delay in introducing the new rules while such objections are heard.
The WhatsApp complaint cites a 2017 ruling by the Indian Supreme Court supporting privacy in a case known as the Puttaswamy ruling.
The court then ruled that privacy must be respected except in cases where legality, necessity and proportionality speak against it. WhatsApp argues that the law fails all three of these tests, starting with the lack of explicit parliamentary support.
Experts supported WhatsApp’s arguments.
“The new requirements for traceability and filtering can put an end to end-to-end encryption in India,” wrote Stanford Internet Observatory scientist Riana Pfefferkorn in March.
Further legal challenges to the new rules are pending in Delhi and elsewhere.
For one thing, journalists argue that extending technology regulations to digital publishers, including imposing standards of decency and taste, is not supported by the underlying law.
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.