The Government is planning to reiterate its demand for the messaging application to work out for the technical solution of tracing the origins of the inflammatory messages which are spread on its platform.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology would be drafting a letter for asking it to design the technology led solution for the issue which has led for mob lynching in the country in the past.
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.
The officials also said that if Whatsapp finds the solution given by the government for traceability goes against its end to end encryption policy, the company must be able to find the solution on its own which must be technically feasible without the need to compromise on its offereings. “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.”
Some of the analysts even say that the demand from government from WhatsApp is reasonable and also the company can provide the traceability with help of metadata without the need of compromising the encryption. “For basic level of traceability, storing the metadata is enough,” said Sunil Abraham, the 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.”
Like every other organisation which is used to store the copies of the end-of-end encrypted emails on the own servers, WhatsApp can also store the copies of the encrypted messages of the metadata. 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 even maintained that most of the people rely on the platforms for all kind of sensitive conversations those include with their doctors, families or even banks. “Building traceability would undermine end-to-end encryption and the private nature of WhatsApp, creating the potential for serious misuse. WhatsApp will not weaken the privacy protections we provide,” the company’s spokesperson said in August after the demand from the Indian government on traceability.