WhatsApp Files Lawsuit in India over
New Laws That Impact User Privacy
May 26, 2021
WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit
challenging the Indian government’s new rules that require the Facebook-owned
messaging platform to make people’s messages traceable, a move it says would
undermine the privacy of users.
The lawsuit was filed as India brought sweeping new regulations into force on
Wednesday to make social media and technology companies, that have tens of
millions of users in the country, more accountable for content on their
One of the new rules would require messaging platforms to identify the “first
originator of information” when authorities demand it. WhatsApp wants that
regulation blocked saying that it undermines citizens’ fundamental right to
In a statement issued after the lawsuit was filed, the government said it
respects the right to privacy as a fundamental right but "no Fundamental Right,
including the Right to Privacy, is absolute and it is subject to reasonable
The statement by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said the
requirement to disclose the origin of a particular message will only arise in
the case of “prevention, investigation or punishment” of very serious offences.
With over 40 million users, India is one of the biggest markets for the
messaging platform. It has said that it is committed to protecting the privacy
of people’s personal messages.
“Technology and privacy experts have determined that traceability breaks
end-to-end encryption and would severely undermine the privacy of billions of
people who communicate digitally,” WhatsApp says in a blog post on its website.
It said that a government “that chooses to mandate traceability is effectively
mandating a new form of mass surveillance.”
Technology experts in New Delhi called the lawsuit by WhatsApp significant.
“This is one of the most significant lawsuits for privacy and it has
implications not just for Indian users but globally. What will be debated in
court is -- can privacy of all users be compromised because there might be a
legitimate demand from law enforcement agencies for information on one user or
one message,” said Nikhil Pahwa, a digital rights activist and founder of
technology publication Medianama. “Basically many governments around the world
don’t want these kind of encrypted platforms because these platforms are blind
to them and do not allow mass surveillance."
The sweeping new rules that were announced in February give the government more
power to order social media companies, digital media and streaming platforms to
remove content that it considers unlawful and require them to help with police
investigations in identifying people who post “misinformation.” The employees of
the companies in India can be held criminally liable for failing to comply with
the government’s requests.
media companies in India have been facing a tougher environment as the
government seeks to regulate content posted online, which has become one of the
most important spaces to express dissenting views.
A spokesman for the opposition Congress Party, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, said the
new rules were “extremely dangerous” for free speech and creativity, "unless
extreme restraint is exercised" in implementing them.
Critics accuse the government of trying to stifle online criticism and point to
its requests to Twitter last month to remove several tweets including some that
were critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic ravaging India. The
government had said the messages could incite panic and were misinformation.
Police also turned up at the local offices of Twitter in New Delhi on Monday to
serve notice to the company concerning an investigation into the tagging of some
government official's tweets as "manipulated media."