WhatsApp Sues Indian Government Over Internet Rules

WhatsApp filed a lawsuit against the Indian government earlier this week over new internet rules it claims would undermine the privacy of billions of users. 

In the suit, WhatsApp, an encrypted messaging application owned by Facebook, claims that the information technology rules that were set to go into effect Wednesday are unconstitutional, according to a New York Times article published by Mike Isaac on May 25. 

The rules in question were proposed in February by India’s Electronics and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, and would require tech companies to remove social media posts the government deems unlawful and messaging companies to create traceable databases of messages sent through their services, the article reported. 

“Civil society and technical experts around the world have consistently argued that a requirement to ‘trace’ private messages would break end-to-end encryption and lead to real abuse,” a WhatsApp spokesman is quoted as saying in the article. End-to-end encryption allows users to communicate securely and privately, preventing others from accessing their messages.

The Indian government and WhatsApp have been in an ongoing battle over the messaging app’s privacy policy. On May 18, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology reportedly sent WhatsApp a letter instructing the company to withdraw its planned policy update, claiming that the “changes to the privacy policy and the manner of introducing these changes…undermines the sacrosanct values of informational privacy, data security and user choice for Indian users, and harms the rights and interests of Indian citizens,” according to an article published on May 20 in The Economic Times by Surabhi Agarwal. 

The WhatsApp lawsuit is part of a growing struggle between the Indian government and major tech companies, including Twitter. According to a New York Times article published on May 25 by Sameer Yasir and Emily Schmall, police stormed the New Delhi offices of the social networking service this past Monday night over “manipulated media” labels Twitter applied to posts by senior members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, claiming that forged content was included. 

According to the article by Isaac, last month, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were ordered to remove dozens of posts that were critical of the Indian government and its stumbling response to the coronavirus pandemic. Critics of the new internet rules fear they will be used to silence government detractors.