In response to WhatsApp's legal challenge to new digital rules, the government on May 26 said it respects the right to privacy of citizens and has no intention to violate it.
“The Government of India recognises that ‘Right to Privacy’ is a Fundamental right and is committed to ensure the same to its citizens,” the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) said in a statement.
The ministry’s response comes against the backdrop of a lawsuit filed by WhatsApp on May 25 challenging the government’s new rule regarding the identification of the ‘first originator’ of a message. The Facebook-owned unit has moved the Delhi High Court alleging the new rules “mean end to privacy.”
WhatsApp said that tracing chats is equivalent to keeping fingerprints of every single message and that would break the end-to-end encryption. "This would fundamentally undermine people's right to privacy," it added.
On the lawsuit file by instant messaging app, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the “government is committed to ensuring the right of privacy to all its citizens but at the same time it is also the responsibility of the government to maintain law and order and ensure national security,” according to the ministry statement.
Prasad asserted that none of the measures proposed by India will impact the normal functioning of WhatsApp in any manner and for the common users, there will be no impact.
The IT minister clarified that the order to trace the first originator of a message as per the new guidelines shall be passed only for the purposes of prevention, investigation, punishment, etc. of an offence relating to sovereignty, integrity, and security of India, public order incitement to an offence relating to rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for not less than five years.
Prasad said that it is WhatsApp’s responsibility to find a technical solution whether through encryption or otherwise, as the use of technology to ensure the right to privacy is entirely the purview of the social media intermediary.
Meanwhile, the government has also sought response from all ‘Significant Social Media Intermediaries (SSMI),’ those platforms that have fifty lakh (5 million) registered users in India on their compliance with the new digital rules that have come into effect today. “Please confirm and share your response ASAP and preferably today itself,” the ministry told the social media platforms through a letter.
The new IT guidelines ‘Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Ethics Code) Rules, 2021’ were notified on February 25 and SSMIs were given three months’ time to moderate their content policies in accordance with it.
In the February notification, the government had noted that the new rules are aimed at ensuring more transparency and offering a grievance redressal system. According to the guidelines, large social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp now need to follow additional due diligence, including the appointment of a chief compliance officer, nodal contact person, and resident grievance officer.
Therefore, MeitY, has written to the social media platforms asking for physical and address contact details of their chief compliance officer, nodal contact person, and the resident grievance officer.
While WhatsApp has challenged the guidelines in court, Facebook on Monday said that it aims to comply with the provisions of the IT rules but will continue to discuss a few of the issues which need more engagement with the government.