Unhappy with the steps taken so far by WhatsApp, the government plans to reiterate its demand to the messaging app to work out a technical solution to trace the origins of incendiary messages spread on its platform.
The Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) is drafting a letter — its third since July to the Facebook-owned platform — asking it to design a technology-led solution to the issue that in the past has led to mob lynching or riots in the country.
Since India first raising its concerns, WhatsApp has announced measures such as limiting forwards to five groups at a time from the earlier 250, identifying forwarded messages, and a publicity campaign against fake news.
The government says these measures may not be enough.
“It’s a reasonable demand from us, and very much doable. The third letter will reiterate that WhatsApp is not meeting all our concerns,” said a top government official, who did not want to be identified.
If WhatsApp feels the solution given by the government for traceability goes against its end-to-end encryption policy, then the company should be able to find a solution on its own which is technically feasible without compromising on its offering, the official said. “We are not asking them to look into the contents of the message, but if some message has been forwarded, say, 100 times and has caused some law and order problem, then they should be able to identify where it originated from,” he said, adding that WhatsApp cannot absolve itself from responsibility in the name of user privacy. “We are not being unfair since we can’t allow anonymous publishing.”
WhatsApp could not be immediately reached for comment.
Some analysts say the government’s demand from WhatsApp is reasonable and the company could provide traceability using metadata without compromising on encryption.
“For basic level of traceability, storing the metadata is enough,” said Sunil Abraham, executive director of Center of Internet and Society. “For the kind of traceability that the Indian government is asking for, WhatsApp may have to break its end-toend encryption. But other kind of traceablity, such as who is messaging whom, how many times, who are the propagators of messages, and who are receivers, can all be seen through storing just metadata.”
Just like every organisation used to store copies of end-of-end encrypted emails on their own servers, similarly WhatsApp can either store copies of encrypted messages or the metadata, he said. Last month, at a meeting between Union minister for electronics and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad and WhatsApp CEO Chris Daniels, the government asked the company to appoint a grievance officer in India, set up an Indian entity, and ensure traceability of messages.
While the company agreed to register a corporate entity and build a team here, a stalemate over the issue of traceability continues.
“(WhatsApp) needs to find solutions to deal with sinister developments like mob lynching and revenge porn and has to follow Indian law,” Prasad said in August. “It does not take rocket science to locate a message being circulated in hundreds and thousands… (WhatsApp) must have a mechanism to find a solution.”
WhatsApp has maintained that people rely on the platform for all kinds of sensitive conversations, including with their doctors, banks and families. “Building traceability would undermine end-to-end encryption and the private nature of WhatsApp, creating the potential for serious misuse………..Read More>>