WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit in the Delhi High Court on May 25th against the government’s new digital rules that come into force from May 26th. WhatsApp state that these would compel it to break privacy protections to users.
WhatsApp states that these rules would require it to “trace” the origin of messages sent on the service. This it believes is a violation of privacy. WhatsApp had designed end-to-end encryptionto ensure that nobody other than the receiver can see a particular message.
“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,” WhatsApp, which has nearly 400 million users in India, said in a statement today.
“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,” said a spokesperson of the California-based Facebook unit.
The petition asks the High Court to declare that one of the new rules is a violation of privacy under the constitution of India. The new laws require social media sites to identify the “first originator of information” when asked for it.
Since messages on WhatsApp are end-to-end encrypted, they would have to break this encryption to comply with the law. WhatsApp argues strongly against traceability of messages. Officials say “others parts of the government” have also raised objections with the traceability requirement.
They add that traceability would force private companies to collect and store end to end data of conversations. This would burden companies as they need to collect more data than they need to, for the purpose of turning it over to law enforcement agencies.
According to Reuters, WhatsApp’s petition refers to a 2017 Supreme Court ruling that said privacy must be preserved except in cases where legality, necessity and proportionality all weighed against it.
Platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter were given three months to comply with the new digital rules that require them to appoint a compliance officer in India, set up a grievance response mechanism and take down content within 36 hours of a legal order. The sites are also required to use automated processes to take down offensive content. Failure to comply with these rules would see them being banned in India.