Government asks WhatsApp to develop a solution to trace the origin of messages

The government doesn’t think it is being unfair to the instant messaging platform.

  • Published: September 20, 2018 10:40 AM IST

Facebook-owned instant messaging platform, WhatsApp, has been under the pressure of the Indian government with demands to change the way the company functions in India. So far, WhatsApp has agreed to all demands made by the IT ministry, except for one where the government wants the ability to track the origin of messages on the platform. The Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) is reportedly drafting the third letter to WhatsApp to find a solution to trace the messages that are exchanged among the users.

According to a report on ET, the government is stressing on this technology-led solution as it has led to issues in the past, leading to riots or mob lynching in the country. After the initial concerns were raised, WhatsApp announced some measures, where the forwards were limited to five groups, instead of 250. WhatsApp also announced measures to identify forward messages, publicity campaigns and fake news on the platform. However, according to the government, these measures aren’t 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,” a government official under the condition of anonymity told ET.

Sure, if WhatsApp feels that the traceability solution offered by the government goes against the platform’s end-to-end encryption policy, the company should develop a feasible solution without compromising its service offerings. “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. We are not being unfair since we can’t allow anonymous publishing,” he added.

The official further highlighted that WhatsApp cannot stay away from the responsibility in the name of user privacy. Analysts believes that the demands made by the government are reasonable and WhatsApp can easily offer traceability without compromising on the encryption aspect.

“For basic level of traceability, storing the metadata is enough. For the kind of traceability that the Indian government is asking for, WhatsApp may have to break its end-to-end encryption. But other kind of traceability, 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,” Sunil Abraham, executive director of Center of Internet and Society told the publication.

Abraham further added that every organization stores copies of end-of-end encrypted emails on its servers, and WhatsApp can store a copy of metadata or encrypted messages in a similar way. Last month, the Union minister for electronics and IT, Ravi Shankar Prasad, met WhatsApp CEO Chris Daniels and asked the company to appoint a grievance officer in India. He also asked him to set up an Indian entity to ensure traceability of messages.

Back in August, Ravi Shankar Prasad said “(WhatsApp) needs to find solutions to deal with sinister developments like mob lynching and revenge porn and has to follow Indian law. 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.”

Now it remains to be seen if WhatsApp can offer a traceability solution and comply with the demands made by the Indian government.

  • Published Date: September 20, 2018 10:40 AM IST