WhatsApp has filed a legal complaint against the Indian government over a new rule that will require social media companies to identify and share ‘first originator of information’ with the government when they demand it.
The Indian government announced strict new regulations for social media firms in February. The rules, which were due to take effect on Wednesday (May 26), include requirements that services create special roles in India to keep them in compliance, and remove some types of content, including posts that feature "full or partial nudity".
The rule that has drawn the most criticism is one that would require companies to trace the "first originator" of messages if asked by authorities. The government has said that such requests would be made only in relation to serious crime. But WhatsApp has said the rule would "break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermines people’s right to privacy".
A WhatsApp spokeperson said: "Requiring messaging apps to 'trace' chats is the equivalent of asking us to keep a fingerprint of every single message sent on WhatsApp, which would break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermines people’s right to privacy.
"We have consistently joined civil society and experts around the world in opposing requirements that would violate the privacy of our users. In the meantime, we will also continue to engage with the Government of India on practical solutions aimed at keeping people safe, including responding to valid legal requests for the information available to us."
The Indian government first proposed the concept of 'traceability' in 2019. At that time, social media organisations told the government that such a provision would violate the privacy of Indian users. WhatsApp has stated that it opposes traceability in a blog post.
Since the new rules risk criminal penalties for non-compliance, WhatsApp said it believed that it had "no choice other than to seek the opinion of the courts". It filed a lawsuit in the Delhi high court on Wednesday morning.
The company stated that it has approached the Supreme Court of Brazil for a similar matter.
The WhatsApp legal complaint comes after the Indian police visited Twitter’s office in New Delhi on 24 May. This investigation began when a ‘manipulated media’ tag was added to a Tweet from a member of the Indian government.