WhatsApp moved the Delhi high court this week. This legal battle is about privacy and data between the Modi government and the messaging platform WhatsApp. The new rule requires social media intermediaries with large user bases (denoted as “significant” social media intermediaries) to enable tracing of the originator of information on their platform when required. This is specific to intermediaries that provide messaging services.
While the government has argued that the rule is necessary to prevent misuse of social media and curb fake news, WhatsApp noted that tweaking end-to-end encryption leaves all users “vulnerable” to privacy violations by public and private players, placing journalists, civil rights activists and political activists at risk of retaliation.
End-to-end encryption, which WhatsApp offers at present, refers to a system of communication where only the communicating users can read the messages. Therefore, at the heart of this case is the Right to Privacy and it could prove to be an important test of its application in India.
The central government had presented the guidelines for social media and OTT platforms on 25 February this year. The guidelines were given by central minister Prakash Javadekar and Ravishankar Prasad through a press conference.
According to the guidelines, social media will tell on what basis they have verified a user account. Social media should adhere to the guidelines as the media does. If some users content is being removed or their access to certain content is limited, they have to tell them why it is being done, and in 24 hours, an objectionable post has to be removed. The report of complaints and the action taken on them have to be given in every 6 months.
According to these guidelines, social media platforms with a user base of more than 50,00,000 have to appoint a resident complaints officer, chief compliance officer and nodal contact person. For this, the government had given 3 months which expired on 25 May, and for this, WhatsApp reached the High Court only under the new rules of the government.
WhatsApp has appealed to the court to ban the new rules as it is against users’ privacy. Under the new digital rules, if the government asks any social media platform about the first person generating the message or the post, they have to give information about it. WhatsApp will be the most affected by these new guidelines.