WhatsApp, the most popular instant messaging service in India, faces the brunt of the government and may get banned in Indi if it does not abide by the government guidelines with respect to privacy. If the Facebook-owned messaging service does not comply with the government’s request for tracing the origin of a message, they may face action from the Indian government. So, is there a possibility to find WhatsApp banned in India?
What is likely to get WhatsApp banned in India?
At the root of the controversy and speculation of action on WhatsApp Messaging is the new rules formulated by the government with respect to the Information Technology. The new Information Technology Rules 2021 announced on 25th February 2021 consist of the Intermediary Guidelines for the service providers and Digital media ethics code.
The guidelines and rules envisaged in these documents make it obligatory for the service providers to share the details of the originator of a message. While the rules will take a while until they are fully implemented and take effect, the government has taken a firm stand that makes it mandatory for the service providers to identify the originator of a message. Not only WhatsApp, but the new guidelines will also affect a wide range of messaging services such as Telegram, Signal and a wide range of other services that use an end to end encryption for the messages and other data shared on them.
What do the rules say?
As per the government guidelines, if a tweet, or message has not originated in India – the platform is expected to share the details of the first recipient of the message. In the case of the messages originating in India, the service provider should share the details about the originator of the message.
The new rules are aimed at “…identification of the first originator of the information that is required only for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, or public order or of incitement to an offence relating to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years”
The service provider does not need to share the details of the contents of the message but needs to share the details of the originator of the message. However, WhatsApp has – as of now – not come up with any information on whether it is possible to identify the originator of a message without breaking the end to end encryption of the message.
WhatsApp has previously put down the request from the government. However, this time around, it has been more than a mere request and the strict guidelines can perhaps be a huge concern. Back in 2018, a WhatsApp spokesperson had stated that “Building traceability would undermine end-to-end encryption and the private nature of WhatsApp, creating the potential for serious misuse. WhatsApp will not weaken the privacy protections we provide,”. It needs to be seen whether the instant messaging giant makes any changes to its policy this time. If it doesn’t perhaps we may find WhatsApp banned in India.
Facebook, which is the parent company of WhatsApp has indicated that it is going through the new guidelines and will study it in detail. A spokesperson for Facebook stated that
Well, it may be too early to make a comment on if WhatsApp is banned in India. Of course, India is a huge market for the brand and they are quite likely to come up with some sort of solution to the crisis.