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WhatsApp Dismisses Indian Government's Demand to End Encryption: What is at Stake?

WhatsApp might have to compromise on its single most effective privacy feature in India but will it?

Sarthak Dogra | News18.com@SarthakDogra

Updated:July 25, 2018, 1:42 PM IST
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WhatsApp Dismisses Indian Government's Demand to End Encryption: What is at Stake?
WhatsApp has rejected the Indian authorities' demand to remove its end-to-end encryption. (Photo for representation)
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Numerous cases of lynching emerging from different parts of the country have put Facebook-owned chat platform WhatsApp in a tight spot with the Indian authorities. The reason for this is simple, in almost all of the cases, the victims were accused of fake information, which is primarily being spread through WhatsApp messages. As a result, the Indian government had questioned the platform for the steps that it is taking for keeping the spread of such misinformation in check. This was also in line with the upcoming 2019 elections, which could possibly be hampered through the spread of fake news on WhatsApp.

One counter-measure to prevent the spread of fake news, suggested by the Indian authorities, was to bring traceability to all the content on the platform. This basically meant to remove the end-to-end encryption that the chat app uses to retain the privacy of the content being shared on it by its users. As per a recent report, WhatsApp has now dismissed these demands by the government.

In a statement to VentureBeat, WhatsApp reflected that maintaining the privacy is a major part of its fundamental values and giving up on it is not a question at the moment. “We remain deeply committed to people’s privacy and security, which is why we will continue to maintain end-to-end encryption for all of our users,” the company said.

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However, it is not the end of the line for the Indian government's demands. The request had been put across rather sternly by the Ministry of Electronics & IT last week, stating that the chat app could possibly face legal actions if it did not deliver on these terms.

“There is a need for bringing in traceability and accountability when a provocative/inflammatory message is detected and a request is made by law enforcement agencies,” the government had said on Friday. It had further added “When rumours and fake news get propagated by mischief mongers, the medium used for such propagation cannot evade responsibility and accountability. If they remain mute spectators, they are liable to be treated as abettors and thereafter face consequent legal action."

While there is a chance that WhatsApp might have to give up on its privacy concerns, potentially meaning that all the content being shared on the platform will be going through the government's scanner, the whole idea is highly unlikely. The platform has over a Billion users worldwide and the prime reason for this is the end-to-end encryption that the app uses to maintain the privacy of its users. Giving up on the same would not only hazardously affect its business, it will also be a huge compromise on the users' trust that WhatsApp has gained over the years of its operations.
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| Edited by: Sarthak Dogra
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