WhatsApp has sued the Indian government over new internet laws that the company says will “seriously undermine” the privacy of their users.
The new computer laws, described as oppressive and draconian, give the Indian government more power to monitor online activity, including over encrypted apps like WhatsApp and Signal. They were adopted in February but were due to come into force on Wednesday.
Under the laws, the encryption – which keeps communications on the app private and inaccessible to third parties – should be removed from WhatsApp in India and messages should be placed in a “traceable” database. The government would then be able to identify and take action against the sender if content was found to be “illegal”.
WhatsApp, which has more than 400 million users in India and is a fundamental communication tool across the country, previously said it would not store its users’ data. The company filed a lawsuit in Delhi courts on Wednesday arguing that the new laws are unconstitutional and violate citizens’ right to privacy, as mentioned in a 2017 Supreme Court ruling.
“Some governments are looking to force technology companies to find out who sent a particular message on private messaging services. This concept is called ‘traceability’, ”WhatsApp said in an online statement. “WhatsApp is committed to doing everything in its power to protect the privacy of people’s personal messages, which is why we join with others in opposing traceability.”
The legal challenge is the latest escalation in a battle between big tech companies that have a huge and growing user base in India, and the Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which has introduced more and more measures more stringent to regulate the Web. sphere, which is seen as a space of dissent.
A WhatsApp lawyer told Delhi High Court: “A government that chooses to make traceability mandatory is effectively imposing a new form of mass surveillance.
“In order to trace even a single message, services would have to trace each message. There is no way to predict which message the Indian government would want to investigate in the future. ”
The Modi government has already clashed with Twitter on several occasions, demanding that the site remove anti-government tweets linked to farmers’ protests earlier this year and more recently tweets criticizing the government’s handling of the pandemic.
Twitter complied with some requests and made some messages inaccessible inside India, but refused to comply with others. Facebook and Instagram were also recently instructed to remove anti-government posts mentioning the coronavirus, on the grounds that they could cause “panic”.
Under the new IT rules, social media companies must remove content within 36 hours of a legal order and must appoint an India-based “compliance officer” to handle any complaints. The laws also apply to online media and have been described as further muzzling of media in India.
Delhi Police, which are under the control of the Home Office, arrived late at night at empty Delhi Twitter offices in what was originally described as a “raid” on Monday. It was later clarified as a legal notice to the company, after a tweet by a politician from the ruling Bharatiya Janata (BJP) party was called “manipulated media”. The tweet concerned a document that evidence showed was rigged.
This is one of the first times that WhatsApp, a Facebook-owned encrypted messaging app, has taken legal action against a national government. WhatsApp has also clashed with the Brazilian government over similar privacy concerns, which has led to the service being shut down several times.