WhatsApp Rightly Refuses Indian Government's Silly Demand To Break Encryption

from the that's-not-the-problem dept

A few weeks back we wrote about the awful situation in India where mob violence has been leading to people being lynched. Often this is coming as misinformation is being spread online. Rather than deal with the root causes of this violence, people have been pointing fingers at WhatsApp, the messaging software (owned by Facebook) that has been the main source of the disinformation. As we pointed out in our original post, it seemed silly to blame the messaging app. We pointed to a compelling argument that the Indian government should be the one taking most of the blame here. In that article, by Abhimanyu Ghoshal, he noted:

Instead of blaming WhatsApp, India’s government needs to tackle the larger issues that are making its people paranoid and vulnerable to the viral spread of lies. Hell, it could even use WhatsApp to do that.

Last year, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is currently in power in the country, was reportedly working to set up roughly 5,000 WhatsApp groups to spread its campaign messaging for the 2018 assembly elections across the southern state of Karnataka, which is home to some 61 million people.

For starters, it should launch a campaign to encourage people to question the veracity of information they receive via social media and messaging platforms. It also needs to remind people about the laws that they must adhere to within the country’s borders.

So, anyone want to take a guess on whether or not the government did any of that? Oh, don't be silly. Of course they didn't. Instead, they demanded that WhatsApp break its encryption to allow for government surveillance of who initiated various disinformation campaigns. Thankfully, WhatsApp is refusing to give in to these demands.

“We remain deeply committed to people’s privacy and security, which is why we will continue to maintain end-to-end encryption for all of our users,” the company said.

The question is what happens now. The Ministry of Electronics and IT in India has said that a failure to break the encryption will lead to legal action against the company. What's incredible in reading the framing of this by the Ministry is that it seems to bend over backwards to want to make sure everyone thinks the problem here is 100% the fault of WhatsApp.

MeitY had written to Whatsapp exhorting them to take immediate steps to tackle the menace of misuse of their platform wherein inflammatory messages were circulated that led to unfortunate incidents. On the same day Whatsapp responded indicating their initiative to mark forwarded messages and to step up efforts to detect fake news.

Subsequently, an unfortunate incident has occurred in Bidar where a 32 year old software engineer Mohammed Azam was killed and this was preceded by viral circulation of rumours on Whatsapp about child lifters. It is regretted that the enormity of the challenge and the rampant abuse happening in the country leading to repeated commissioning of crimes pursuant to rampant circulation of irresponsible messages in large volumes on their platform have not been addressed adequately by Whatsapp.

Why should it be WhatsApp's fault that people are using the platform in this manner? As that report from Ghoshal noted, a big part of the reason why people are lynching others falsely accused of kidnapping is because they have no faith in the government to adequately investigate and arrest those who are actually breaking the law. But, nope, to the government, it's all WhatsApp's fault.

Reports in the media resonate the general sentiment that there is much more that needs to be done by Whatsapp. There is a need for bringing in traceability and accountability when a provocative / inflammatory message is detected and a request is made by law enforcement agencies. When rumours and fake news get propagated by mischief mongers, the medium used for such propagation cannot evade responsibility and accountability. If they remain mute spectators they are liable to be treated as abettors and thereafter face consequent legal action.

In light of the above, Whatsapp has been requested today to come out with more effective solutions that can bring in accountability and facilitate enforcement of law in addition to their efforts towards labeling forwards and identifying fake news. It has been conveyed to them in unmistakable terms that it is a very serious issue which deserves a more sensitive response.

This truly is incredible, if not entirely surprising. The Indian government has failed to put in place adequate institutions for a functioning society, and when things break down into mob violence, rather than seeking the (admittedly difficult) job of fixing those institutions and setting up for adequate governance, they just point their fingers at messaging app. What an utter failure.


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  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 26 Jul 2018 @ 10:51am

    “It is regretted”

    By whom? Because the government seems to give no fucks about the issue, other than blaming WhatsApp for it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      The Wanderer (profile), 27 Jul 2018 @ 10:31am

      Re:

      I think you misread the sentence.

      It doesn't say anyone regrets the crimes being committed.

      It says that the fact that WhatsApp has not "adequately addressed" the cited factors is regretted.

      Only with an additional layer of passive voice, and a dollop of structurally-complex sentence on top of that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2018 @ 11:03am

    Is a good day for Facebook to dig in and take on a government!

    Nothing else going -- oh, wait. -- What's this on Drudge?

    HOW LOW WILL IT GO? FACEBOOK DEATH SPIRAL STOCK -19%

    Well. Still. Despite "losing" 15 billion, at least Zuck is -- oh-oh! SHAREHOLDERS PLOT TO OUST ZUCKERBERG...

    [PS: actually, it'll recover, much to my disgust.]

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Monkey (profile), 26 Jul 2018 @ 11:05am

    It is regretted that the enormity of the challenge and the rampant abuse happening in the country leading to repeated commissioning of crimes pursuant to rampant failure of irresponsible officials in power to adequately manage their platform of responsibility to the people they have sworn to serve have not been addressed adequately by the government.

    FTFY

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    carlb, 26 Jul 2018 @ 11:16am

    *WhatsApp?* But I told you to shoot *Messenger*!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    None, 26 Jul 2018 @ 11:54am

    Whatsapp is *conduit* not "source" of disinformation

    I suggest you change the word "source" in the following to "conduit":

    ...the messaging software (owned by Facebook) that has been the main source [should be "conduit"] of the disinformation...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2018 @ 12:32pm

    This would never happen in the US. In the US, when people become disillusioned with the government and resort to vigilante justice, they're declared domestic terrorists and summarily beaten into submission by the government. If the Indian government cannot inspire faith, it could at least try to rule through intimidation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 26 Jul 2018 @ 1:08pm

      Re:

      when people become disillusioned with the government and resort to vigilante justice, they're declared domestic terrorists

      Unless they are White. Then they are “lone wolves” or some other image-softening euphemism. Seriously, when was the last time anyone in the federal government was willing to label the Ku Klux Klan as a domestic terrorist group?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2018 @ 1:30pm

        Re: Re:

        From my (admittedly limited) knowledge of the KKK, they haven't been actively violent lately. If anyone knows different, please speak up, I just haven't heard of them being actually, you know, violent.

        On the other hand, there's what happened a year ago:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unite_the_Right_rally

        And it was actually called Domestic Terrorism by Sessions, though I'd believe that to be political pablum more than anything else.

        Of course on the flip side, the orangutan in the White House failed miserably in his response to it. So.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 26 Jul 2018 @ 4:07pm

    'No really, you can trust us, we'll totally do work after that'

    Because clearly if they can't be bothered to address why people might be lynching others they can totally be trusted to comb through massive piles of data to look for damning evidence, during which I'm sure they'd be very careful to limit their search to lynching related stuff.

    As the saying by warped individuals goes, 'Never let a good tragedy go to waste.'

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2018 @ 4:37pm

    go sharding and nobody can mess with by goin dark @ FreeEmailEncryption dot com. They are the king of encryption. cheers!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bergman (profile), 26 Jul 2018 @ 5:06pm

    Not a bug but a feature?

    It occurs to me that there might well be good reasons why the government is going after the conduit rather than the source here.

    Panicky, credulous people without the ability to apply critical thought aren't a bug but a feature to politicians. They only become anything remotely resembling a problem when the politicians aren't the ones pulling the puppet's strings!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    India, 26 Jul 2018 @ 9:02pm

    The United States put a man on the Moon, so we demand WhatsApp to break encryption.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Janna, 1 Aug 2018 @ 12:56am

    I remember something similar happened in Sri Lanka and the government blocked people from accessing all the social media sites including messengers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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