India respects the ‘right to privacy of every citizen’ and has no intention to violate it, the Union ministry for information and technology said in a strongly-worded response to WhatsApp that has decided to move court against the social media policies of the country. In a statement, the IT ministry termed WhatsApp’s last moment challenge to the intermediary guidelines as an unfortunate attempt to prevent norms from coming into effect.
“Any operations being run in India are subject to the law of the land. WhatsApp‘s refusal to comply with the guidelines is a clear act of defiance of a measure whose intent can certainly not be doubted," the ministry further said.
The government added that WhatsApp’s attempt to portray Intermediary Guidelines of India as contrary to Right to privacy is “misguided". “Contrarily in India, privacy is a fundamental right subject to reasonable restrictions. Rule 4(2) (to trace first originator) is example of such a restriction," it stated.
The Centre has clarified that WhatsApp does not require to disclose the origin of a particular message other than when such a message is required for prevention/investigation of punishment of a very serious offence related to the sovereign 80 and dignity of the Indian state.
It further states that the information on messages may be required when it comes to security of foreign states with who India has ‘friendly relationship’ or “public order or off incitement of two and offence related to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material".
The UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada require social media firms to allow for legal interception, it said, adding, “What India is asking for is significantly much less than what some of the other countries have demanded."
Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the government of India recognises that right to privacy is a fundamental right and is committed to ensure the same to all its citizens. He added that it is the responsibility of the government to maintain law and order and to ensure national security.
Assuring WhatsApp, the minister said that none of the measures proposed by India will impact the normal functioning of the messaging platform in any manner whatsoever, and for the common users, there will be no impact too.
The IT ministry further said that no fundamental rights, including right to privacy, is absolute and it is subject to reasonable restriction.
As per the Intermediary Guidelines, the originator of information can only be traced in a scenario where other remedies have proven to be ineffective, making the same a last resort measure. Moreover, such information can only be sought as per a process sanctioned by the law thereby incorporating sufficient legal safeguards.
The Centre’s response comes after WhatsApp filed a lawsuit in the Delhi High Court challenging the government’s new digital rules, arguing that the requirement for the company to provide access to encrypted messages will break privacy protections.
(With inputs from agencies)