October 18, 2021

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WhatsApp Sues Indian Government Over Encryption-Breaking Surveillance Laws

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Topline

Facebook-owned messaging app WhatsApp sued the Indian government Wednesday in an attempt to block new regulations that would force it to remove encryption for all users and record messages sent on the platform in a “traceable” database.

Key Facts

The lawsuit, which WhatsApp filed in the Delhi High Court Tuesday evening and was first reported by Reuters, seeks to block a suite of new laws it said require the company to “keep a fingerprint of every single message sent on Whatsapp.” 

The new regulations, which come into force Wednesday after a three month grace period, compel tech giants to remove unlawful content and “trace” the source of unlawful messages, effectively breaking WhatsApp’s privacy-protecting end-to-end encryption for all users.

WhatsApp argued the regulations are unconstitutional and fundamentally undermine the right to privacy, with a representative reportedly telling the Delhi court the laws are “effectively mandating a new form of mass surveillance.”

Key Quote

WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption runs up against some government efforts to find out who sent a message, a concept known as “traceability.” Because there is no way of predicting what messages a government might wish to pursue, WhatsApp argues a mandate for traceability is effectively a mandate for a “form of mass surveillance” as it must trace every single message in order to comply. 

Key Background

Big tech has repeatedly clashed with the Indian government over its new internet laws, which critics say amount to censorship and have been used to take down posts critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. WhatsApp has encrypted messages sent over its app since 2016 in a move intended to bolster user privacy but has drawn Facebook into conflict with governments not only in India, but the United States, Australia, United Kingdom and other countries who warn that digital safeguards hinder law enforcement agencies.

Big Number

400 million. India is WhatsApp’s biggest market, making up a sizable fraction of its 2.5 billion users worldwide. 

What To Watch For

It is unclear when the case will appear before the court. Bloomberg reported it could be as “early as this week.”

Further Reading

WhatsApp Sues India Government Over New Internet Rules (Bloomberg)

WhatsApp sues Indian government over new privacy rules – sources (Reuters)

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