WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit in Delhi against the Indian government that wanted to block regulations coming into force on Wednesday, according to experts that would force the California-based Facebook unit to break privacy protections, sources said.
The case, described by Reuters by people who know him, calls on the Delhi High Court to declare that one of the new rules is a violation of the privacy rights of India’s constitution as it requires social media companies identify the “first author of the information” when requested by the authorities.
While the law requires WhatsApp to unmask only people credibly accused of misdemeanors, the company says it cannot do it alone in practice. Because the messages are end-to-end encrypted, to comply with the law, WhatsApp says it would have a break encryption for recipients as well as for “creators” of messages.
Reuters, which first reported the story on Wednesday, could not independently confirm that the complaint had been filed in court by WhatsApp, which has about 400 million users in India, or when it could be reviewed by the court. Those who knew the issue refused to identify them because of the sensitivity of the issue.
A WhatsApp spokesman declined to comment.
A government official said WhatsApp could find a way to track down the originators of the misinformation, a long-standing stance by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, and that the company was not being asked to break the encryption.
The Indian Ministry of Technology did not respond to any requests for comment.
Demand is fueling a growing struggle between the Modi government and technology giants, including Facebook, Google Alphabet and Twitter, in one of its key global growth markets.
Tensions rose after a police visit to Twitter offices earlier this week. The microblogging service had labeled the posts of a spokesman for the ruling party and others as “manipulated media”, which said fake content was included.
The government has also pressured technology companies to remove not only what it has described as misinformation about India’s COVID-19 pandemic, but also some criticism of the government’s response to the crisis, which has claimed thousands of lives. daily.
The response of companies to the new rules has been the subject of intense speculation since they were announced in February, 90 days before the date of entry into force.
The Intermediary Guidelines and the Digital Media Code of Ethics, enacted by India’s technology ministry, designate “significant social media intermediaries” to lose protection against lawsuits and criminal proceedings if they do not adhere to the code.
WhatsApp, its parent rivals Facebook and technology have invested heavily in India. But company officials are privately concerned that Modi government’s increasingly heavy regulation could jeopardize those prospects.
The new rules include requirements for large social media companies to designate Indian citizens for key compliance functions, remove content within 36 hours after a legal order, and establish a mechanism to respond to complaints. They must also use automated processes to eliminate pornography.
Facebook has said it agrees with most of the provisions, but that it is still negotiating some aspects. Twitter, which has been hardest hit by not rejecting posts from government critics, declined to comment.
Some in the industry expect a delay in introducing the new rules while these objections are heard.
The WhatsApp complaint cites a 2017 Supreme Court ruling in India that supports privacy in a case known as the Puttaswamy ruling, according to people who knew about it.
The court then held that privacy should be preserved except in cases where legality, necessity and proportionality weighed against it. WhatsApp argues that the law fails all three tests, starting with the lack of explicit parliamentary support.
Experts have backed WhatsApp’s arguments.
“New traceability and filtering requirements may put an end to end-to-end encryption in India,” wrote Riana Pfefferkorn, a scholar at the Stanford Internet Observatory, in March.
Other legal challenges to the new rules are already pending in Delhi and elsewhere.
On the one hand, journalists argue that the extension of technology regulations to digital publishers, including the imposition of rules of decency and taste, is not supported by the underlying law.