WhatsApp, a Facebook-owned messaging platform, has moved the Delhi High Court challenging the “traceability” clause mentioned in the government’s new IT rules. This comes just a day before the deadline given by the government to comply with the new regulations for social media intermediaries. WhatsApp filed the petition on 25 May.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY) announced the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 on 25 February 2021. The rules comprised clauses including Social Media redressal mechanism, Tracking originator of a message, and OTT platforms redressal mechanism.
WhatsApp, in its plea, has invoked the 2017 Justice KS Puttaswamy vs Union of India case. According to WhatsApp, the traceability provision is against the fundamental Right to Privacy and is unconstitutional. It is asserting that traceability is contradictory to the concept of end-to-end encryption that inhibits others from finding out about the sender’s identity.
WhatsApp added a new clause in the “Help Centre” column of the app which read, “Traceability will force private corporations to reveal the names of the people who shared a piece of content even if they did not create it but shared it out of concern or to check its credibility. Such an approach will lead to innocent people getting caught up in an investigation or even go to jail for sharing content that subsequently becomes problematic in the eyes of the government, even if they meant no harm by sharing it in the first place. The threat that anything someone writes can be traced back to them takes away people’s privacy. It would have a chilling effect on what people say even in private settings, violating universally recognized principles of free expression and human rights.”
According to WhatsApp, tracking the first originator of a message will force them to collect and store “who-said-what and who-shared-what” data of billions of users daily for the requirement of law enforcement agencies. It has pleaded to the court to stop it from coming into force and prevent the criminal liability of its employees for non-compliance.
The social media intermediaries – Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – are yet to appoint a resident grievance officer, a chief compliance officer, and a nodal contact person as per the rules given by the government on 25 February.