WhatsApp-rival Signal hit at the Indian government by saying that the recent snooping attempts have an interesting coincidence with the government’s new IT policies to “weaken encryption” in private chat platforms.
Citing the big expose around the use of Israel-based NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to snoop on journalists, political opponents and activists made by The Washington Post and 16 media partners, the privacy-focused messaging app, from its official handle tweeted, “Looks like the Indian government has been secretly attempting to surveil political opposition parties, journalists, activists, clerics, and labor unions. Interesting coincidence that they’ve also been advocating legislation to weaken encryption lately!”
Tracing source of messages: WhatsApp vs Indian government
Facebook-owned WhatsApp is fighting a lawsuit against the Indian government’s new ‘Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules 2021’ that wants end-to-end encrypted chat platforms like WhatsApp to disclose the origin of certain messages exchanged on its platform.
As per WhatsApp, revealing the source of encrypted chats or employing traceability violates the user’s basic right to privacy. WhatsApp claims that to enable “traceability”, they will end to break end-to-end encryption–which is its main USP. The encryption offers privacy to users but if governments are able to read messages and see who sent what message to which users then there would be no privacy left on the platform.
On the other hand, as per the government, it is not interested in reading personal chats of users but the requirement for tracing the origin of WhatsApp messages is for prevention, investigation or punishment of very serious offences related to the “sovereignty and integrity of India”. The government said that the new IT rules are made in public interest and by refusing to follow them, WhatsApp is avoiding responsibility.
New IT rules apply to Signal, Telegram and other encrypted chat platforms as well
Soon after WhatsApp announced its new controversial privacy policies, many WhatsApp users in India shifted to Signal messaging app or Telegram, fearing breach of privacy. Both Signal and Telegram have seen a huge influx of users in India. Having said that, if WhatsApp is forced to follow the new IT rules, rivals like Signal, Telegram and others will also have to follow them.
The new IT rules are not just for WhatsApp. It applies to all large social media platforms. Platforms with 50 lakh registered users are considered ‘significant social media intermediaries’ in India. “It is pertinent to note that the rule to trace the first originator of information is mandatory for each and every significant social media intermediary, irrespective of their method of operation,” as per a statement by the government in May 2021.