Indian Government has decided to draft a new letter to the instant messaging giant, WhatsApp to develop a technological solution for tracing the origin of messages to curb spreading of fake news and controversial texts. This letter, which is also the third one this year, will address WhatsApp to work towards a method using which the government can track where a particular message originated from. So far, the government of India has been disappointed by WhatsApp’s efforts to curb fake news, which according to the Ministry of Electronics and IT are insufficient.
Traceability is Imperative: GoI
Previously, controversial materials floating on the Facebook-owned messaging application along with fake news have led to mob-lynching and violent activities in the country. To work against the spreading of phoney news and to avoid catalysing of violent events by WhatsApp, the company has put a limit on the number of group forwards to 5 from the previous 250. However, the ministry is of the opinion that these small steps aren’t of much use.
Technological Solution to Trace Messages is Possible
As per an ET report, a top government official who did not want to be identified said “It’s a reasonable demand from us, and very much doable. The third letter will reiterate that WhatsApp is not meeting all our concerns.” He emphasised that WhatsApp should consider the government’s recommendation about tracking the origin of messages. If the consideration goes against WhatsApp’s end to end encryption policy, then the instant messaging giant should work on a technological solution on its own without hurting its features. He remarked, “We are not asking them to look into the contents of the message, but if some message has been forwarded, say, 100 times and has caused some law and order problem, then they should be able to identify where it originated from.”
WhatsApp Unlikely to Budge on End to End Encryption
Explaining the ministry’s stance on the issue, he said that we are not demanding for something wrong since the government cannot allow anonymous publishing that leads to violence in the country. Additionally, he said that the ministry doesn’t intend to force WhatsApp on compromising its functionalities to accomplish the goal.
A few analysts are of the opinion that the government is right in seeking this feature from WhatsApp and that the company can provide message tracking using metadata without hurting its end to end encryption policy. Sunil Abraham, executive director of Center of Internet and Society, said about the issue, “For the kind of traceability that the Indian government is asking for, WhatsApp may have to break its end-to-end encryption. But another kind of traceability, such as who is messaging whom, how many times, who are the propagators of messages, and who are receivers, can all be seen through storing just metadata.”
WhatsApp Agrees to Set up Indian Entity
In August, the company spokesperson said in reply to the Indian government’s demand, “Building traceability would undermine end-to-end encryption and the private nature of WhatsApp, creating the potential for serious misuse. WhatsApp will not weaken the privacy protections we provide.”
Meanwhile, concerned Indian higher officials have said that the government is not asking WhatsApp to break its end to end encryption policy. Instead, it is just asking the tech giant to implement a method of tracking messages while respecting its existing offerings.