WhatsApp refusal to comply with new rules a ‘clear act of defiance’: Centre

Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad says ‘traceability clause’ under IT rules is needed to maintain law and order and ensure national security

WhatsApp bans Indian accounts
WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit against the IT rules in the Delhi High Court, questioning the constitutional validity of the 'traceability clause'.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has pulled up Facebook (parent company of WhatsApp) for its refusal to comply with the new IT rules over ‘right to privacy’, calling it “a clear act of defiance”.

WhatsApp had filed a lawsuit against the IT rules in the Delhi High Court on May 25 (Tuesday), the last date for compliance with the new rules.

Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that while the government respects its citizens right to privacy, such a right “will come with reasonable restrictions”. “The Government of India is committed to ensure the right of privacy to all its citizens, but at the same time it is also the responsibility of the government to maintain law and order and ensure national security,” Prasad said. “None of the measures proposed by India will impact the normal functioning of WhatsApp in any manner whatsoever and for the common users, there will be no impact.”

The bone of contention between the Centre and WhatsApp is the ‘traceability clause’ in the new IT rules, which requires social media platforms to locate the “the first originator of the information” if asked for by the government authorities.


WhatsApp argues that the traceability clause is against the Constitution of India and also defies people’s fundamental right to privacy, as underlined by the Supreme Court of India (Justice K S Puttaswamy vs Union Of India case {2017}).

Prasad responded to WhatsApp’s contention. “Whether right to privacy is ensured through using encryption technology or some other technology is entirely the purview of the social media intermediary. It is WhatsApp’s responsibility to find a technical solution, whether through encryption or otherwise, that both happen.”

To this a WhatsApp representative said the clause which requires social media companies to ‘trace’ chats would be the “equivalent of asking us to keep a fingerprint of every single message sent on WhatsApp”. This, the company spokesperson said, would require WhatsApp to break end-to-end encryption, which is turned on by default for all messages.

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“Traceability would mean re-engineering the app just for the Indian market, which is unlikely to happen,” he said. The idea of end-to-end encryption emanates from the fact that no third-party, not even the messaging app, can track or read messages.

The government has said it recognises its citizens’ ‘right to privacy’ as a fundamental right, but added: “As per all established judicial dictum, no fundamental right, including the right to privacy, is absolute and is subject to reasonable restrictions.”

The government tried to turn the tables on Facebook over the privacy issue. “At one end, WhatsApp seeks to mandate a privacy policy wherein it will share the data of all its users with its parent company, Facebook, for marketing and advertising purposes. On the other hand, WhatsApp makes every effort to refuse the enactment of the Intermediary Guidelines which are necessary to uphold law and order and curb the menace of fake news,” a press release issued by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology stated.