India’s IT rules took effect yesterday, the 26th of March, 2021. At the beginning of the year, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITy) announced new rules by which social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, etc., should operate and gave social media platforms a three-month ultimatum to abide by the country’s IT rules.
According to a government spokesperson, social media companies that do not comply with the new rules by May 25 will lose their status and protections as intermediaries. Criminal actions can also be taken against them as per the country’s laws.
WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit complaining about the Government’s new IT rules that according to the tech giant require that privacy protections are broken. According to Reuters report on the matter, the lawsuit asked that the Delhi High Court (DHC) declare one of the new rules that mandates social media companies to identify the “first originator of information” when demanded by authorities as a violation of privacy rights. WhatsApp argued that messages on its platform are end-to-end encrypted and following the rules that are being demanded of them means cutting its end-to-end encryption process which will leave users vulnerable.
WhatsApp has also described the IT rules, especially the one that requires the company encroaching on the privacy of users, as “unconstitutional”.
“Significant social media intermediaries providing services primarily in the nature of messaging shall enable identification of the first originator of the information that is required only for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, or public order or of incitement to an offense relating to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child abuse material punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years”, the IT rule relating to privacy protection reads.
WhatsApp insists that the law requires the company to provide information about people who are being accused of committing a crime, and as such, the IT rule demanding information about users is “unconstitutional”.