WhatsApp Encryption Controversy Risks India Departure

On Friday, WhatsApp declared to the Delhi High Court that they would shut down their services rather than break their end-to-end message encryption. WhatsApp’s representative, Advocate Tejas Karia, underscored their commitment to privacy and encrypted communication.

“We will shut down WhatsApp if we have to break encryption,” he stated before a Bench of Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Manmeet Pritam Singh Arora, as Bar & Bench reported.

The court was hearing pleas filed by Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Meta (formerly known as Facebook) challenging Rule 4(2) of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

In cases where ordered by a court or competent authority, the rule mandates social media intermediaries to enable the identification of the first originator of the information. Mr. Karia argued that such a requirement would necessitate WhatsApp to store billions of messages for several years, a requirement not existing anywhere else in the world.

The bench asked Karia if any other market had a similar issue. The bench inquired, “Has anyone in the world brought up these matters? Has anyone ever asked you to share the information anywhere in the world?” Even in South America?’

To this, Karia replied, “No, not even in Brazil.”

Govt’s Response

Responding to these statements on behalf of the Central Government, Advocate Kirtiman Singh contended that tracing message originators is important, particularly in present circumstances. Given that WhatsApp has over 500 million users in India, which is its biggest market, and that numerous government agencies use the app to instantly distribute important information to citizens, the stakes are high on both sides.

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He further noted that the rule exceeds the Information Technology Act, which does not mandate breaking encryption. The court adjourned the case to August 14, planning to hear it alongside other cases challenging various provisions of the IT Rules 2021.

WhatsApp rolled out complete end-to-end encryption in 2016. WhatsApp says, “Privacy and security are in our DNA, which is why we built end-to-end encryption into our app. End-to-end encryption secures your messages, photos, videos, voice messages, documents, status updates, and calls from falling into the wrong hands.”

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