SAN FRANCISCO – WhatsApp on Wednesday sued the Indian government for striking what they say are repressive new internet rules requiring it to make people’s messages “traceable” to outside parties for the first time.
The lawsuit, which WhatsApp filed in the Supreme Court in Delhi, seeks to reverse the enforceability of the rules issued by the government this year. WhatsApp, a service sent by Facebook encrypted messages, claimed in its case that the rules that would take effect on Wednesday were unconstitutional.
The lawsuit against India’s government is a very unusual move by WhatsApp, which has rarely worked with national governments in court. The service said the detection of its messages ‘would seriously undermine the privacy of billions of people who communicate digitally’ and could jeopardize its security.
“Civil society and technical experts around the world have consistently argued that a requirement to ‘detect’ private messages will violate end-to-end encryption and actually abuse it,” a WhatsApp spokesman said. committed to protecting the privacy of people’s personal messages, and we will continue to do everything in India’s laws to do so. “
The case is part of an extensive battle between the largest technology companies and governments around the world over which of them has the upper hand. Australia and the European Union have drafted or enacted laws to limit the power of Google, Facebook and other companies over online speech, while other countries try to curb the services of the companies to stifle contradiction and squash protests. China recently warned some of its largest Internet companies against using anti-competitive practices.
In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata party have been working for several years to correct the power of technology ventures and tighten policing what is said online. In 2019, the government proposed giving itself huge new powers to suppress internet content, sparking a fierce battle with the companies.
The rules that WhatsApp is objecting to were proposed in February by Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s Minister of Legislation and Information Technology. Under the rules, the government may require tech companies to take down posts on social media that they consider illegal. WhatsApp, Signal and other messaging companies will also be expected to create ‘traceable’ databases of all messages sent with the service, while you can identify ‘fingerprints’ to private messages sent between users.
WhatsApp has long claimed that it has no insight into user data and has said that it does not store messages sent between users. This is because the service is end-to-end encrypted, allowing two or more users to communicate securely and privately without giving others access to the messages.
More than a billion people rely on WhatsApp to communicate with friends, family and businesses around the world. Many users are in India.
Critics have said the new rules are being used to silence government opponents. Last month, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were ordered to take down dozens of social media posts that are critical of Mr. Modi’s government and its response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has plagued the country. Government officials said the posts should be removed as it could cause panic and hamper the response to the pandemic.
The social media companies complied with many of the requests by making the posts invisible in India, although it was still visible to people outside the country. In the past, Twitter and Facebook have posted content after finding that it does not violate the law.
Tensions between technology companies and the Indian government escalated this week as police descended on Twitter offices in New Delhi to challenge labels affixed to certain tweets from senior members of the government. While Twitter’s offices were empty, the visit symbolized the increasing pressure on social media companies to curb their speech as criticism of the ruling party.
Facebook and WhatsApp have long maintained working relationships with the authorities in dozens of countries, including India. Usually, WhatsApp said it would respond to legitimate requests for information and has a team that helps law enforcement officers deal with emergencies that are threatening.
Rarely has WhatsApp pushed back. The service has been shut down many times in Brazil after the company resisted requests for government data from the government. And it caught on with U.S. officials trying to install “backdoors” in encrypted messaging services to monitor for criminal activity.
But WhatsApp argued that the technology would not work if it wanted to apply India’s new “traceability rules”. Such a practice is ‘ineffective and very susceptible to abuse’, the company said.
Other tech companies and digital rights groups such as Mozilla and the Electronic Frontier Foundation said this week that they support WhatsApp’s fight against ‘traceability’.
“The threat that anything anyone writes can be taken back takes away people’s privacy and will have an icy effect on what people say even in private, and it violates universally recognized principles of free expression and human rights,” WhatsApp said. said.