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.
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.
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.
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.