WhatsApp has sued the Indian government in an attempt to block new rules that it says would lead to “mass surveillance” by forcing social media platforms to disclose private information about their users.
The company confirmed Wednesday that they filed a complaint with the Delhi High Court.
The lawsuit is an attempt to delay strict rules that are supposed to take effect Wednesday. They include demands that companies create special roles in India to comply with local law, and to stay in constant contact with law enforcement. The rules also require that social media platforms remove some types of content, including posts that have “partial or full nudity.”
However, the rule that WhatsApp is taking most issue with is one that would require companies to trace the “first originator” of messages, if asked by authorities. The government has said that these requests would only be made if a serious crime has occurred, but the company is concerned this requirement would jeopardize user privacy by requiring the platform to track every message.
“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,” said a spokesperson for the Facebook-owned company. “We have consistently joined civil society and experts around the world in opposing requirements that would violate the privacy of our users.”
India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology called WhatsApp’s lawsuit an “unfortunate attempt” to delay the new rules from coming into effect.
“The government respects the right of privacy and has no intention to violate it when WhatsApp is required to disclose the origin of a particular message,” it said in a statement.
The ministry said it would only require WhatsApp to disclose “the first originator” of messages for the investigation or prevent of “very serious offenses” related to the sovereignty, security and integrity of India, public order, rape, child sex abuse or sexually explicit material.
WatsApp has approximately 400 users in India, making India the country’s biggest market. Since 2018, WhatsApp has been pushing back against India’s demands to disclose the sources of messages.
The IT ministry said India was asking for “significantly much less” than other countries have demanded of WhatsApp, and was committed to securing the rights of users’ privacy while also maintaining national security.
“It is WhatsApp’s responsibility to find a technical solution, whether through encryption or otherwise, that both happen,” the IT ministry added.
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