India’s government is pressuring Facebook for access to WhatsApp’s encrypted messages.
Last year, rumors and fake videos spread on WhatsApp, leading to about two dozen lynchings. Although Facebook has since limited the number of times a message can be forwarded, the government doesn’t believe it’s enough and now wants access to the platform’s messages so it can track down responsible parties. Facebook has so far refused the request.
“For six months we’ve been telling them to bring more accountability to their platform, but what have they done?” said Gopalakrishnan S., a senior official in the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology known as MEITY, according to Bloomberg. “So pedophiles can go about on WhatsApp fully secure that they won’t get caught. It is absolutely evil.”
But WhatsApp spokesman Carl Woog said giving into the government’s demands would lead to the end of the service’s privacy protections.
“What is contemplated by the rules is not possible today given the end-to-end encryption that we provide and it would require us to re-architect WhatsApp, leading us to a different product, one that would not be fundamentally private,” said Woog.
He added that about 250,000 accounts have been banned each month for sharing inappropriate content. “We ban users from WhatsApp if we become aware they are sharing content that exploits or endangers children.”
In the meantime, the Indian government is creating “Intermediary Guidelines” which would make online social media platforms responsible for information their users share, including content that is “blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, libellous, invasive of another’s privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically objectionable, disparaging, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise unlawful in any manner whatever.”
If the proposal becomes law, a variety of social media sites will have to make messages traceable, delete objectionable content within 24 hours, and work with government agencies during investigations into offensive content.