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Whatsapp sued the Indian government to stop new regulations that would require messaging apps to trace messages back to their originator, effectively breaking encryption protections.
“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,” a WhatsApp spokesperson told The Hacker News via email. “We have consistently joined civil society and experts around the world in opposing requirements that would violate the privacy of our users.”
WhatsApp has more than 530 million active users in India.
It is seeking to block new internet rules that will take effect on May 26 in a lawsuit filed in the Delhi High Court by Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp.
The guidelines, called the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, require significant social media intermediaries – those with at least 5 million registered users in India – to remove non-consensual sexually explicit content within 24 hours.
Besides the shorter takedown timelines, buried among the clauses is the requirement for traceability.
Regulations On Internet Platforms:
Governments around the world have been tightening regulations on internet platforms to combat financial fraud, stifle competition, incite violence, and spread misinformation, hate speech, and obscene material.
WhatsApp is also battling the Brazilian government over similar legislation.
There has been much debate in the recent years about whether it is possible to identify the originator of a message without compromising encryption on end-to-end encrypted platforms.
WhatsApp, for its part, has long argued against the introduction of traceability as it would not only force companies to collect more data about the kind of messages being sent and shared, and the identities behind them, but also undermine users’ expectations of secure, private communication.
This would compromise WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption (E2EE), which prevents potential eavesdroppers – including telecommunications providers, internet service providers, and even WhatsApp itself – from being able to acquire the cryptographic keys required to decode conversations.
“Traceability is intended to do the opposite by requiring private messaging services like WhatsApp to keep track of who-said-what and who-shared-what for billions of messages sent every day,” the company said. “
Traceability requires messaging services to store information that can be used to ascertain the content of people’s messages, thereby breaking the very guarantees that end-to-end encryption provides. In order to trace even one message, services would have to trace every message.”
However, the Indian government has proposed that WhatsApp assign an alphanumeric hash to every message sent via its platform or tag them with the originator’s information to enable traceability without weakening encryption.
Both solutions, however, have been decried by WhatsApp and cryptographic experts, who say they would undermine the platform’s end-to-end encryption.
As well, the company asserts that traceability is not so effective because it can be abused, since users can be branded as “originators” by simply sharing an article or downloading an image that is then repurposed by other users on the platform in entirely different circumstances.
WhatsApp further argued that the new requirement inverts the way law enforcement normally investigates crimes.
“In a typical law enforcement request, a government requests technology companies provide account information about a known individual’s account,” it said. “With traceability, a government would provide a technology company a piece of content and ask who sent it first.” :
Responding to WhatsApp’s lawsuit challenging the new digital rules for violating user privacy, the government on Wednesday said it is committed to protecting citizens’ privacy, but added it is subject to “reasonable restrictions” and no fundamental right is absolute.”