India’s IT Rules Undermine User Safety, Says WhatsApp CEO

India’s revised information technology guidelines, which require technology platforms to trace the origin of reported messages, “undermine the security provided by end-to-end encryption.
WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart told tech publication The Verge on Monday
, adding that the move could see more countries around the world follow suit.

“With the IT rules in India, the specific thing that those rules would require is that we build a system [to comply] if someone comes up to us and says “Hey, someone said the words ‘XYZ.’ Tell us who (is) the first person to say the words XYZ. It’s not private. And that undermines the security provided by end-to-end encryption, ”Cathcart told The Verge.

India, which notified the revised IT rules in February this year, made messaging apps compliance with the controversial legislation mandatory since May 26.

“I think there is a political question and a technical question. The way they wrote the rules, and what they said is that they only want to apply it to people in India. . But I think there is a larger political issue, “Cathcart told The Verge. “The more some countries see other countries doing it or pushing for it, the more they want to push for it as well.”

India’s new IT rules require large social intermediary businesses, those with more than five million registered users, to have compliance officers, nodes and grievances resident in the country. Messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal are required to trace the origin of messages sent on their services.

On May 26, WhatsApp filed a lawsuit against the IT rules in the Delhi High Court, claiming that the traceability clause violates people’s right to privacy.


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“Requiring messaging apps to ‘track’ chats is like asking us to keep a fingerprint of every message sent on WhatsApp, which would break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally infringe on people’s right to privacy. A spokesperson for Whatsapp said.

“We have always joined with civil society and experts around the world in opposing demands that would violate the privacy of our users. In the meantime, we will also continue to engage with the Indian government on practical solutions to ensure the safety of people, including responding to valid legal requests for the information we have, ”added the spokesperson.

ET reported on September 7 that the government has reiterated its position in favor of traceability, making it clear that social media platforms like WhatsApp must “revamp their platforms” if necessary to help law enforcement trace the origin messages that create a law. -and-order problem.

India argued that “traceability has nothing to do with breaking end-to-end encryption.” Believing that it is quite possible and that it is an “absolute necessity” for national security and public order in the country, despite the decline of WhatsApp.

Encryption preservation

Experts are of the opinion that WhatsApp has serious and deep reservations when it comes to traceability under IT rules. The Facebook-owned company has a pending petition in the Delhi High Court, “which is limited in its challenge to the requirement for the platform to make changes to the product in order for it to be compliant, particularly the traceability, “according to Apar Gupta, executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation, an advocacy group that works on, among other things, the protection of privacy.

“It is important to note that no other platform, whether Indian or big tech based in Silicon Valley, has approached the court directly to challenge the constitutionality of a rule, regulation or decision. ‘central government legislation, especially in the context of content moderation. So there is a level of seriousness there, ”he added.

Cathcart reiterated that the Indian government’s mandate undermines the security provided by the end-to-end encryption of the messaging platform.

“I think in 10 years more of our lives will be online. Even more of our sensitive data will be online. There will be even more sophisticated hackers, spyware companies, hostile governments, criminals trying to access them. And not having the best security means information is stolen. I think this has real consequences for free society, ”he said in the interview with The Verge.

Confidentiality concerns

“If journalists’ information is stolen, as we have seen in some reports around NSO Group, I think it undermines press freedom. If people who want to organize themselves cannot communicate privately, I think it undermines their ability to advocate for change. I think there are a lot of fundamental principles of democracy and liberalism that are actually based on the ability for people to have private information, ”he added.

Cathcart expressed the hope that over the next few years, governments will realize that overall, the most important thing for them to do is to protect the data of their citizens.

“Let the threats increase and therefore their interest in protecting the safety of people is greater, and therefore they will reject what some other countries are asking for.” But I don’t know, ”he told the publication.

Last week, WhatsApp introduced encrypted backups for its users on Android and iOS software, which the company’s CEO said was a further step in protecting the privacy of people’s messages.

“A lot of people don’t save their messages, but a lot of people do. And you can opt for the backup to Google or iCloud if you have an Android or an iPhone. We wanted to see if we could find a way to add the same level of end-to-end encrypted security that you get when you message through WhatsApp to these backups, ”Cathcart said.

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