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Published 16:36 IST, April 29th 2024

WhatsApp vs. Government of India: Clash between privacy and security

End-to-end encryption is regarded as a major privacy feature, providing users with a high level of security against unauthorised access to their communications.

Reported by: Business Desk
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WhatsApp encryption controversy | Image: Unsplash
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WhatsApp encryption controversy: The recent legal battle between WhatsApp, owned by Meta, and the Government of India has sparked a significant debate over privacy, encryption, and governmental regulation of social media platforms.

The conflict, which escalated in the Delhi High Court, revolves around new regulations imposed on social media companies by the Indian government and WhatsApp's response to these regulations. In the latest development, WhatsApp has told court that it would exit India if told to break the end-to-end encryption.

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What is end-to-end encryption?

End-to-end encryption is a security feature implemented by WhatsApp to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of user messages. Essentially, this encryption method ensures that only the sender and intended recipient can read the messages, making it virtually impossible for anyone else, including WhatsApp itself, to intercept or decipher the content.

When a message is sent, it is encrypted on the sender's device and can only be decrypted by the recipient's device using unique cryptographic keys. This means that even if the message travels through WhatsApp's servers, it remains encrypted and inaccessible to anyone other than the sender and recipient.

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End-to-end encryption is regarded as a crucial privacy feature, providing users with a high level of security and protection against unauthorised access to their communications.

Privacy concerns and monetisation

The Government of India has raised concerns about WhatsApp and Facebook's practice of monetising user data while claiming to protect users' privacy. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has argued that this practice violates users' fundamental rights to privacy. Additionally, the government asserts that WhatsApp's refusal to provide access to dispute resolution mechanisms within the country further infringes upon user rights.

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Fundamental rights and dispute resolution

According to the Indian government, WhatsApp's actions have impeded users' access to dispute resolution mechanisms within the country, thus violating their fundamental rights. The Ministry stressed the importance of implementing the IT Rules 2021 to enable law enforcement agencies to track down fake messages that could potentially incite societal unrest.

Accountability of social media platforms

The government asserts that social media platforms, including WhatsApp and Facebook, must be accountable to both users and the laws of the countries in which they operate. It argues that no entity should be allowed to infringe upon the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. Moreover, the Ministry defended the IT Rules, stating that they align with globally accepted norms regarding the responsibilities of intermediaries in the digital sphere.

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Threats to leave India

WhatsApp's stance on end-to-end encryption is at the core of its conflict with the Indian government. The platform has stressed the importance of encryption for safeguarding user privacy and has threatened to leave India if compelled to breach message encryption. WhatsApp contends that end-to-end encryption is crucial for ensuring user privacy and cannot be compromised.

Government's perspective on traceability

The Indian government argues that the traceability of message originators is essential for combating harmful content and upholding online safety standards. It says that social media platforms have a responsibility to assist in identifying individuals who spread misinformation or incite violence. The government's demand for traceability is aimed at enhancing accountability and preventing the misuse of social media platforms.

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Learning from other jurisdictions

Looking at other countries, we see a similar struggle between governments and tech companies regarding data privacy and security. While some nations have implemented stricter regulations on social media platforms, others have opted for a more nuanced approach that upholds both individual privacy and national security interests.

16:36 IST, April 29th 2024