While India has been one of the countries that practice internet censorship for a while, they’ve recently decided to tighten their demands regarding internet technologies. Internet censorship is widely practiced in India on both federal and state level, with the goal to ensure a better and more secure community.
However, this brings up a whole new list of controversies, since such a move initiated mass surveillance projects, allowing the government to decide what the public can and cannot see on the Internet. Other countries that also block internet access include Iran, China, Russia, and North Korea among others.
As one of the most popular messenger applications worldwide, the Facebook-owned WhatsApp has become the center of attention in the IT world within India. The whole fuss was initiated because of the recent lynching events in the country, which were caused by rumors which spread through WhatsApp messenger.
The amount of hate messages and fake news that spread through the country via WhatsApp has come to the point where people’s lives were seriously endangered, which prompted the Indian government to take preventative actions. Among many of their requests, the Indian government demanded decryption and the addition of a feature that would make WhatsApp messages traceable.
The CEO of WhatsApp, Chris Daniels, agreed to almost all of the government’s requests, including the demand to place a compliance officer in the country, along with a corporate entity that would be quick to respond to any incidents, hate messages or rumors related to the use of WhatsApp in India.
Daniels didn’t hesitate to agree with Ravi Shankar Prasad, the IT minister of India when it came to the importance of the issue and working with law enforcement to put an end to offensive and hateful content. In fact, an additional feature was added to WhatsApp after Daniels had a meeting with Prasad. The feature identified forwarded messages, which made users more selective and more aware of what they share through the app.
However, all these compromises weren’t enough for Indian authorities, who continued to demand traceability of messages. This is where things got a bit rough since WhatsApp refused to comply with this demand. Out of a total of 1.5 billion people who use WhatsApp, over 200 million come from India, which makes this country the app’s biggest market. Losing these users would undoubtedly hurt the messenger’s credibility.
Despite this risk, the CEO of WhatsApp refused to give the government what they want, that is, the ability to trace the content that goes through messages. As Daniels stated on numerous occasions, the key feature of the WhatsApp messenger is indeed the privacy it offers to the user.
All messages that go through the application are fully encrypted, meaning only the sender and the recipient can see them. If the company was to comply to the government’s final demand, they would have to compromise the number one feature that has placed their application on the top of the market. The CEO of WhatsApp certainly does not intend to fold under pressure because tampering with this feature would mean changing the way the application works in the country that happens to be its biggest market. Although, some of the Indian application users are starting to fear that the pressure from the Indian government will eventually force WhatsApp to comply with its request and people are starting to seek ways of countering that, one of them being VPNs.
Even though Daniels told the government officials that the company has no access to any user data because of end-to-end encryption, privacy experts state that a small fraction of the data is temporarily cached to allow users offline access. However, it is certain that the company does not store this data, nor it intends to do so.
Besides, this particular government’s demand will not only put people’s privacy at risk, but it will also violate the Supreme Court’s privacy laws. So far there are no clues to what could happen between WhatsApp and the Indian government. However, what is for sure is that the draft of the new regulations is ready and should be out by September.
This regulation will feature strict rules targeting internet firms in India. Each company will have to place a governance officer in the country and ensure traceability of content. Each internet company will also be responsible for removing any offensive or objectionable content within 36 hours.