Facebook-owned WhatsApp has launched a legal battle against the Indian Government over the introduction of new IT regulations that will require the messaging service to trace and identify the first originator of multiple shared messages or chats.
This will require WhatsApp to keep a fingerprint of every message on the platform, which is bound to undermine people’s right to privacy and effectively break the end-to-end encryption (E2EE) protections.
The lawsuit, filed by WhatsApp in the Delhi High Court, seeks to block the new IT rules that came into effect today. The new IT rules are called “the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code.” The rules require major social media platforms, such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, to track people who share false and inflammatory information on these platforms.
According to WhatsApp’s FAQ page, technology and privacy experts have determined that traceability breaks end-to-end encryption and would severely undermine the privacy of billions of people who communicate digitally.
WhatsApp said it is committed to doing all it can to protect the privacy of people’s personal messages, which is why it is joining others in opposing traceability.
“Traceability” is intended to do the opposite by requiring private messaging services like WhatsApp to keep track of who-said-what and who-shared-what for billions of messages sent every day. Traceability requires messaging services to store information that can be used to ascertain the content of people’s messages, thereby breaking the very guarantees that end-to-end encryption provides.
In order to trace even one message, services would have to trace every message and would have to keep giant databases of every message. It will also have to add a permanent identity stamp, like a fingerprint on all messages, the FAQ page reveals.
The vast database has to be maintained as there is no way to predict which message a government would want to investigate in the future. A government that chooses to mandate traceability is effectively mandating a new form of mass surveillance, it noted.
The lawsuit comes at a time when governments around the world are stepping up action to protect privacy and to regulate social media platforms to prevent financial fraud, stifling of competition, inciting violence, and spreading misinformation, hate speech, and obscene content.
WhatsApp has argued that companies would be collecting more information about their users at a time when people want companies to have less information about them. Meanwhile, the Indian government proposes that WhatsApp assign an alphanumeric hash to every message sent through its platform or tag them with the originator’s information to enable traceability without weakening encryption. However, both the solutions have been rejected by WhatsApp and cryptographic experts.
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