Govt Says Right To Privacy Is Not Absolute; Orders Whatsapp To Track Every User

According to the Indian Government, WhatsApp is only required to trace the originator of a message only in case when the message is required for investigation
According to the Indian Government, WhatsApp is only required to trace the originator of a message only in case when the message is required for investigation

WhatsApp refusal to comply with the new IT rules is a “clear act of defiance,” said the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).

He also said that while it respects the right to privacy, it is not an unlimited right and will come with reasonable restrictions.

 The government was responding to WhatsApp’s lawsuit against the IT rules, which was filed in the Delhi High Court on May 25, the last date for compliance with the new rules.

“The Government of India 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,” Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said

He also added that “none of the measures proposed by India will impact the normal functioning of WhatsApp in any manner whatsoever and for the common users, there will be no impact.”

Why WhatsApp Has Filed A Lawsuit Against India’s New Digital Rules?

WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit in the Delhi High Court against the government’s new digital rules, saying these would compel it to break privacy protections to users.

It is also against the rules that will require it to “trace” the origin of messages sent on the service, which it says is a violation of privacy.

WhatsApp Argues Strongly Against Traceability Of Messages

WhatsApp says messages on its platform are end-to-end encrypted, so to comply with the law it would have to break encryption for those who send and receive messages. 

They also add that traceability would force private companies to collect and store who-said-what and who-shared-what for billions of messages sent each day. 

This also means collecting more data than they need only to turn it over to law enforcement agencies.

The debate Of End-To-End Encryption As Misplaced?

Calling the debate of end-to-end encryption as misplaced, Prasad said,

 “Whether Right to Privacy is ensured through using encryption technology or some other technology is entirely the purview of the social media intermediary. It is WhatsApp’s responsibility to find a technical solution, whether through encryption or otherwise, that both happen.” WhatsApp’s main argument is that traceability would require it to track every single message and thus break its end-to-end encryption protocol.

The government of India in a press release said it recognises that ‘Right to Privacy is a Fundamental Right and is also committed to ensuring the same to its citizens.

However, it added that “as per all established judicial dictum, no Fundamental Right, including the Right to Privacy, is absolute and is subject to reasonable restrictions.”

In its petition, WhatsApp has also invoked the 2017 Justice K S Puttaswamy vs Union Of India case to argue that the traceability provision is unconstitutional and also against people’s fundamental right to privacy as underlined by the Supreme Court decision.

Indian Government Requires WhatsApp To Trace The Originator Of A Message

The press release also questions the Facebook-owned platform’s commitment to user privacy: 

“At one end, WhatsApp seeks to mandate a privacy policy wherein it will share the data of all its user with its parent company, Facebook, for marketing and advertising purposes. On the other hand, WhatsApp makes every effort to refuse the enactment of the Intermediary Guidelines which are necessary to uphold law and order and curb the menace of fake news.”

The government response also states that WhatsApp is only required to trace the originator of a message only in case when the message is required for prevention, investigation or punishment of very serious offences related to the 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.

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