WhatsApp Sues The Indian Government Over New Laws That Would Force It To Break Encryption
from the backdoors dept
For many years now, we’ve reported on efforts by the Indian government to demand that WhatsApp break its encryption to give the government access. Much of this comes from the fact that the Indian government wants to pin the blame for certain violence and disinformation on WhatsApp, rather than on those actually responsible. WhatsApp has, in the past, pushed back on individual demands to break its encryption.
However, things have stepped up a notch. The Indian government recently put in place new regulations that are, to put it mildly, quite troubling. India has framed the laws — like so many other laws like this around the globe — as being about stopping “abuse.” But, of course, the government gets to decide what is abuse.
The Indian government says the rules are designed to prevent ?abuse and misuse? of social media. ?The new rules instead seek to empower the users of social media by requiring these platforms to put in place a robust public grievance redressal mechanism,? a representative of India?s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said in a March 17 letter to TIME. ?It brings digital media outlets at par with print and electronic media with the underlying principle of self-regulation to ensure compliance to existing laws of India.?
And one thing that the Indian government believes is abuse… is encryption (remember, again, those earlier stories of the government blaming WhatsApp for violence). Exactly what the rules mean for encryption has been a bit… unclear. The rules do require that encrypted services keep certain information about who the “first originator” of a message is and to provide that to the government on demand. The Indian government insists this is not about breaking encryption. It claims they only need certain metadata and only in extreme circumstances. The government also claims that WhatsApp did not object to this proposal when it was first put forth and there was an open consultation period.
WhatsApp (owned by Facebook) claims that’s completely bogus, because in order to find the “first originator” of a message you have to track everything:
?Traceability? is intended to do the opposite by requiring private messaging services like WhatsApp to keep track of who-said-what and who-shared-what for billions of messages sent every day. Traceability requires messaging services to store information that can be used to ascertain the content of people?s messages, thereby breaking the very guarantees that end-to-end encryption provides. In order to trace even one message, services would have to trace every message.
That?s because there is no way to predict which message a government would want to investigate in the future. In doing so, a government that chooses to mandate traceability is effectively mandating a new form of mass surveillance. To comply, messaging services would have to keep giant databases of every message you send, or add a permanent identity stamp — like a fingerprint — to private messages with friends, family, colleagues, doctors, and businesses. Companies would be collecting more information about their users at a time when people want companies to have less information about them.
And now, WhatsApp is suing the Indian government, claiming that the law violates India’s privacy rights.
Of course, this is also against the backdrop of even bigger conflicts between social media platforms and the government of Narendra Modi, including threatening to jail Twitter employees for not taking down criticism of Modi’s policies, and then raiding Twitter’s local offices for daring to fact check a tweet by a government spokesperson.
Tragically, these attacks on social media moderation and encryption are becoming a toolkit of angry regulators around the globe, as they seem perpetually put out by the fact that the public actually has a voice. Whatever you might think of Facebook, this is a scenario where you should be rooting for WhatsApp to win this case to protect basic privacy rights.