WhatsApp vs Indian Government: All you need to know about the recent face-offs

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Instant messaging platform WhatsApp has filed a petition in Delhi High Court against the Indian Government on May 26, 2021, seeking reprieve from compliance under the new IT Rules 2021. Here is a timeline on how the case built-up over the months.

WhatsApp vs Indian Government: All you need to know about the recent face-offs
Instant messaging platform WhatsApp has filed a petition in Delhi High Court against the Indian Government on May 26 seeking reprieve from compliance under the new IT Rules 2021, according to a Reuters report.
The case asks the Delhi High Court to declare one of the new rules under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, is in violation of privacy rights. The IT Rules 2021 requires social media platforms to identify the "first originator of information" when Government authorities demand it.
In response to WhatsApp's legal challenge to new digital rules, MeitY in a statement, on May 26, said, “The Government of India recognises that ‘Right to Privacy is a fundamental right and is committed to ensuring the same to its citizens.”
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.
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. 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 deadline for compliance with IT Rules 2021 ended on May 25. The Central government had issued the new guidelines in February this year and allowed three months for all the tech companies and social media platforms to comply with them.
As per the new rules the "significant social media intermediaries" stand to lose protection from lawsuits and criminal prosecution if they fail to adhere to the code.
Facebook-owned WhatsApp says it cannot comply in practice because messages are end-to-end encrypted. To comply with the law WhatsApp says it would have break encryption for receivers, as well as "originators" of messages.
This is not the first time that the US tech giant is embroiled in a legal battle against the Government of India. India is WhatsApp’s biggest market with a user base of 45 crore and such confrontation could be surprising for many.
In January 2021, WhatsApp announced a new privacy policy. According to the new privacy policy, WhatsApp intended to share information with its parent company Facebook, which was not there in the earlier version. WhatsApp gave users time till February 8 to accept the same.
WhatsApp’s ‘take it, or leave it’ privacy policy and terms of service didn’t go down too well with the users. Multiple cases were filed in Delhi High Court and Supreme Court against the new policy by privacy rights activists.
Experts opined that WhatsApp wanted to rush the implementation of the updated privacy policy due to a likelihood of implementation of India’s maiden Data Protection Bill pending since 2019.
The IT Ministry has come down heavily on WhatsApp questioning its differential privacy policy for Europe and India. In Europe, the local Governments have stipulated that no such measures can be implemented.
In a letter, the Indian Government reminded WhatsApp that the new Privacy Policy “raises grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens.”
Reacting to the letter by the Ministry, WhatsApp has said on January 20 that it is ready to address any misinformation around its updated policy and remains available to answer all the questions. In a statement, WhatsApp said that it is committed to protecting personal messages with end-to-end encryption and re-emphasized that neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can read them.
On February 8, WhatsApp postponed the deadline for the new privacy policy. In end of February, the Government announced the all-new Information Technology Rules 2021, which included intermediary guidelines and a digital media ethics code.
The Government put forward a firm stand to identify a message's originators. This meant that platforms like WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram and others that use end-to-end encryption for messages had to break it to comply with the Government's new rule.
In March, India's fair-trade regulator, the Competition Commission of India took suo moto cognisance of WhatsApp's contentious new privacy policy.
In mid-April, the Delhi High Court rejected WhatsApp and Facebook's pleas challenging the Competition Commission of India (CCI) order for a probe into the messaging app's controversial new privacy policy.
On April 18, the Indian government's cybersecurity agency CERT-In warned WhatsApp users about vulnerabilities detected in the messaging app.
In May, MietY once again directed the Facebook-owned company to withdraw the planned update and gave WhatsApp seven days to offer a “satisfactory” response. Eventually, WhatsApp scrapped its May 15 deadline for users.
India's IT ministry had sent a notice on May 18 to WhatsApp to withdraw its Privacy Policy 2021. The government maintained its stand that postponement of the privacy policy does not absolve WhatsApp of user privacy concerns.
On May 20, MeitY shot off a second letter to Facebook-owned WhatsApp to withdraw its new privacy policy and has given a week’s time to respond on the same. It took up discriminatory treatment of Indian users vis-à-vis users in Europe by WhatsApp.

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