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Centre’s rule to trace Whatsapp texts threatens privacy

The new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines And Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 were notified in February 2021. The rules mandate that messaging apps like Whatsapp must identify the source of criminal messages and share it with law enforcement agencies.

The Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations wrote to the Indian government these rules violate the right to privacy and freedom of speech and expression enshrined in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. Whatsapp has moved the Delhi High Court, contesting the rule on tracing the source of messages. They say that it violates the landmark Puttaswamy judgment of the Supreme Court which declared privacy as a fundamental right.

But is it even technologically possible for Whatsapp to trace the source of every text on its platform? This is the first of a two-part series on the traceability clause of the government’s new IT rules. In this episode, our reporter Suryatapa Mukherjee speaks to Dr Debayan Gupta, an assistant professor of computer science at Ashoka University, and Anand Venkatanarayanan, a strategic adviser at cybersecurity firm DeepStrat. They explain how enabling traceability could mean disabling encryption. Encryption keeps all our messages secret, even from Whatsapp.

This episode is supported by dialogue. Dialogue has not exercised any editorial control over the contents of this podcast.

Additional reading:

Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules 2021
WhatsApp moves Delhi high court against new guidelines
UP Police Lodge FIR Against Lucknow Hospital Which Put Up 'Oxygen Shortage' Notice
Calls for backdoor access to WhatsApp as Five Eyes nations meet
Amid controversy with WhatsApp, RS Prasad defends digital media guidelines
Former Twitter employees charged with spying for Saudi Arabia by digging into the accounts of kingdom critics
Justice KS Puttaswamy (Retd) vs Union Of India 2018

Centre’s rule to trace Whatsapp texts threatens privacy

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