The new intermediary rules MeITY came up with in February this year has gained controversy as WhatsApp sues the Indian Government over a ‘traceability’ clause.
What is the controversy?
As the new IT rules made by the Indian government ask for the social media intermediaries to identify the first originator of the message being shared on the platform to have control over the fake news originator. In reply, WhatsApp sues the Indian government in Delhi High court under the ‘traceability’ clause and says it stifles free speech and freedom of expression in the nation.
The case was filed against the GoI on May 25, incidentally, it was the last day for all the companies to comply with the new rules.
What are the arguments put forth by the Facebook-owned company?
WhatsApp in the court argues that the new IT rules will not allow End to End Encryption that the company provides to its users across the globe. And that can put the user’s privacy at stake. As one message to be decrypted will break the chain of the encryption and therefore, the user’s data cannot be protected. The company ensured that the new IT rules do not come into force and that the employees are not booked under criminal liability for not complying with the laws framed.
Will ‘traceability’ put the user’s privacy at stake?
The social media company argues that it provides end-to-end encryption to its users across the globe by default. In this system the messages that one sends will not be encrypted wholly and cannot be traced anyways even by the company itself, thus securing the right to privacy of an individual.
The new law’s demand to identify the originator of the message will break the chain and can harm the data privacy of the user as one message cannot be decrypted while encrypting others.
It further put its point as the company cannot re-engineer the application just for India. And if the company complies with the new laws, it will have to create a completely new version of the application which supports traceability, and End to End encryption isn’t provided.
Further saying the company added that while it supports “reasonable and proportionate regulations” it cannot stand for “eroding privacy for everyone, violating human rights, and putting innocent people at risk.”
They further asserted that they will have to add some sort of “permanent identity stamp” or “fingerprint” to each message and that it will equivalent to a mass surveillance program.
Is traceability safe?
Many internet experts say traceability is not safe and isn’t fool-proof. They say users in their messaging pattern forward, copy messages and thus it becomes difficult to find the originator of the message.
WhatsApp in its argument said, “We might have to turn over the names of people who shared something even if they did not create it, shared it out of concern, or sent it to check its accuracy.” Adding they said that basic principles of law enforcement and investigations won’t work with the allowance of traceability.
How did Government respond to the lawsuit?
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY) stated WhatsApp’s move to not comply with the new IT rules as a “clear act of defiance”. They said the Right to Privacy won’t be breached as it comes with reasonable restrictions and that the new IT rules only ask for the information of the originator of the content in selected cases based on an order from a competent court.
Under Rule 4(2) of the guidelines, a social media intermediary could be required to trace an originator of a message or tweet or post “only for prevention, investigation, punishment, etc. of inter alia an offense relating to sovereignty, integrity, and security of India, public order incitement to an offense relating to rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for not less than 5 years.”
Further questioning the company, GoI pointed out to the controversy WhatsApp was caught into a few months back in sharing the user’s data to its parent company Facebook for advertising marketing purposes and breach of privacy then.
Countering the statement, a spokesperson of the company said “Pursuant to the IT Rules, we are working to implement operational processes and improve efficiencies. Facebook remains committed to people’s ability to freely and safely express themselves on our platform.”
What the other social media intermediaries have to say about the new IT Rules?
As per the reports of PTI, after the controversy, the CEO Google Sundar Pichai in a statement extending support said the company will comply with all the laws.
“It’s obviously early days and our local teams are very engaged… we always respect local laws in every country we operate in and we work constructively. We have clear transparency reports, when we comply with the government requests, we highlight that in our transparency reports” asserted Sundar Pichai.
Twitter in a statement said “We, alongside many in civil society in India and around the world, have concerns with regards to the use of intimidation tactics by the police in response to enforcement of our global Terms of Service, as well as with core elements of the new IT Rules. We plan to advocate for changes to elements of these regulations that inhibit free, open public conversation. We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian Government and believe it is critical to adopt a collaborative approach. We believe it is the collective responsibility of elected officials, industry, and civil society to safeguard the interests of the public.”
The new IT Rules also made a provision for the big giants working as social media intermediaries in India (with over 50 lakh users in the nation) to appoint a resident grievance officer, a chief compliance officer, and a nodal contact person. These posts should be filled with employees who are Indian residents.
It becomes vital to ensure that the privacy of an individual is secured by all means. Spreading fake news on the other hand is a matter of sheer concern as with the spread of wilfully manipulated messages, the nation’s security is put at the edge of the sword and by putting stringent provisions on the social media intermediaries, a control can be taken over such elements who air fake news putting nation’s & individual’s security at stake.
DISCLAIMER: This article reflects author’s view point. Goa Chronicle may or may not subscribe to views of the author