The government of India claims it has found a way to trace any message on WhatsApp to its origin alongside preserving the end-to-end encryption. The move comes with an intent to curb fake news and also to trace spam messages at any given time which India is struggling to fight against.
With over 400 million users, India has become the largest market for WhatsApp for years. The messaging platform has also been at the forefront of fake news peddling in India. In the last few years, it has been used to spread misinformation, during various mob incidents and for instigating polarisation. Whatsapp so far has made decent attempts to curb fake news by rolling out various features like ‘frequently forwarded’ indication and a limit on forwards of a message by a user.
It is known that the Indian Government has been stressing WhatsApp message traceability since 2018. The matter was also heard in the Supreme Court of India, where WhatsApp clearly expressed concerns over its user’s privacy. However, there hasn’t been any development from both parties until the new media reports. While there haven’t been any official announcement, officials claim that the Government of India has proposed, WhatsApp should assign an alphanumeric hash key to every message sent. The hash key will contain information related to the origin and thus, can be traced back to the original sender for any unlawful reference.
An anonymous government official revealed to ET that the discussion between WhatsApp representatives and authorities are currently ongoing, but there is no formal communication yet which is bound to be on cards soon.
Currently, WhatsApp has three months to comply with the latest IT (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules of 2021, released last month. The rules mandate ‘significant social media intermediary with over five million users’ to ensure traceability of the first originator of a message that has been flagged by either a court of law or an authorised government agency.
The company’s vice president of global affairs and communications Nick Clegg noted that the use of metadata would enable both parties to get basic details such as call duration. The VP even offered to harness WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook linkages to help law enforcement agencies. But the government had refused to budge and the court remained not so outspoken about this.