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WhatsApp moves to Delhi HC against Indian govt’s new IT rules, claims it will harm privacy protection policies

The social media intermediaries like WhatsApp will have to trace the originator of the content on the basis of a judicial order passed by a court or by a competent authority under section 69 of the IT Act.

Facebook-owned messaging app WhatsApp has filed a case in the Delhi High Court against the Indian government, seeking to block the new IT rules that come into effect from Wednesday, 26 May.

According to the reports, WhatsApp has filed a petition against the Government of India on May 25 in the Delhi High Court protesting against the new IT rules that require “significant social media intermediaries” like WhatsApp to “trace” the origin of particular messages sent on the service.

The petition asks the Delhi High Court to declare that the new rules as null and void as they ‘violate privacy rights guaranteed by the Indian constitution as per WhatsApp.

As per the recently notified Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, social media intermediaries with more than 5 million users and providing messaging services will have to enable the identification of the first originator of problematic content that may harm the country’s interests and several other provisions described in the rules.

The social media intermediaries like WhatsApp will have to trace the originator of the content on the basis of a judicial order passed by a court or by a competent authority under section 69 of the IT Act. As per the new Digital Media Ethics Code promulgated by the ministry of information technology, social media intermediaries will lose protection from lawsuits and criminal prosecution if they fail to adhere to the code.

As per reports, the plea by WhatsApp is yet to clear High Court registry and it is not clear when it will get a hearing date.

WhatsApp claims the new rules violates privacy

Even though the new rules demand the intermediaries to unmask those people credibly accused of wrongdoing, WhatsApp claims it cannot do that alone in practice. According to WhatsApp, the messages are end-to-end encrypted, and they need break encryption for receivers and “originators” of messages to comply with the law.

“Requiring messaging apps to trace chats is the equivalent of asking us to keep a fingerprint of every single message sent on WhatsApp, which would break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermines people’s right to privacy. We have consistently joined civil society and experts worldwide in opposing requirements that would violate the privacy of our users. In the meantime, we will also continue to engage with the Government of India on practical solutions aimed at keeping people safe, including responding to valid legal requests for the information available to us,” said WhatsApp spokesperson speaking to Business Standard.

Ironically, WhatsApp, which is decrying the news rules on the pretext that it would violate individuals’ privacy, has silently enforced its own controversial privacy rules to share its user data with other Facebook companies. The arbitrary decision to update its privacy norms has led its users to believe that WhatsApp would now be able to peek into its users’ personal messages and share the personal data of users with Facebook.

The petition comes at a time when the Indian government has been demanding higher transparency from tech giants including Facebook, Google’s parent company Alphabet, and Twitter, who have been enforcing their own rules arbitrarily to censor contents without any respect for Indian rules and regulations.

Meanwhile, Google and Facebook has said on Tuesday that they are attempting to comply with the new rules.

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Staff reporter at OpIndia

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