WhatsApp row: 'Govt doesn't intend to break encryption by new IT Rules', say sources

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Representative image
Representative image

New Delhi [India], May 26 (ANI): By imposing the new IT Rules that would require the messaging services to "trace" the origin of particular messages sent on the service, the Government of India does not intend to break encryption, said sources.

"Intermediary Guidelines require identifying the originator only when other means of finding out the culprit are not possible. And, the government does not intend to break encryption. Intermediary Guidelines Intermediary Rules clearly stipulate the grounds and procedure for sending the request to the originator of the message," sources told ANI.

According to the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY), it is very important to note that such an order, to trace the first originator, under Rule 4(2) of the Intermediary Guidelines shall be passed only for the purposes of prevention, investigation, punishment etc. of inter alia 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.

It is in the public interest that who started the mischief leading to such a crime must be detected and punished. We cannot deny how in cases of mob lynching and riots etc. repeated WhatsApp messages are circulated and recirculated whose content is already in the public domain. Hence the role of who originated is very important, the ministry pointed out.

Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, "The entire debate on whether encryption would be maintained or not is misplaced. Whether Right to Privacy is ensured through using encryption technology or some other technology is entirely the purview of the social media intermediary. The Government of India is committed to ensuring the Right of Privacy to all its citizens as well as have the means and the information necessary to ensure public order and maintain national security. It is WhatsApp's responsibility to find a technical solution, whether through encryption or otherwise, that both happen."

The sources took the example of foreign countries to consolidate the Centre's stand and said the rules enacted by the Government of India in the public interest are not rules enacted in isolation but have global precedence.

"What India is asking for is significantly much less than what some of the other countries have demanded," sources said.

They quote the July 2019 instance where the governments of the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada issued a communique, concluding that tech companies should include mechanisms in the design of their encrypted products and services whereby governments, acting with appropriate legal authority, can gain access to data in a readable and usable format.

The sources further said Brazilian law enforcement is looking for WhatsApp to provide suspects' IP addresses, customer information, geo-location data and physical messages.

WhatsApp on Wednesday moved the Delhi High Court against the Centre's recently imposed IT Rules that would require the messaging services to "trace" the origin of particular messages sent on the service.

WhatsApp through its statement said, "Requiring messaging apps to 'trace' chats is the equivalent of asking us to keep a fingerprint of every single message sent on WhatsApp, which would break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermines people's right to privacy." On February 25, the Centre framed the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, in the exercise of powers under section 87 (2) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and in supersession of the earlier Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules 2011, which will come into effect from May 26.

The new guidelines issued by the government of India mandated a grievance redressal system for over the top (OTT) and digital portals in the country. Under the new rules, social media platforms will have to have a grievance redressal mechanism, they will also have to name a grievance officer who shall register the grievance within 24 hours and disposal in 15 days.

The government had said that if there are complaints against the dignity of users, particularly women - about exposed private parts of individuals or nudity or sexual act or impersonation etc - social media platforms will be required to remove that within 24 hours after a complaint is made.

As per the guidelines, first, the social media platforms will have to have a chief compliance officer residing in India responsible for ensuring compliance with the act and the rules.

Second is a nodal contact person who should reside in India for 24X7 coordination with law enforcement agencies. Also, social media platforms have to appoint a resident grievance officer who shall perform the grievance redressal mechanism as indicated. They also will have to publish a monthly report about the number of complaints received and the status of redressal. (ANI)

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