WhatsApp chats reportedly by Rhea Chakraborty, Deepika Padukone and many more have surfaced in the last few weeks.

Bollywood actor Deepika Padukone at the unveiling of the country's first nationwide public awareness campaign on mental health "Dobara Poocho" in New Delhi on Monday. PTI file image
news Drugs case Thursday, September 24, 2020 - 09:36

The Narcotics Control Bureau’s probe into the drugs case in connection with the Sushant Singh Rajput death case has thrown up several prominent names from the Bollywood industry after WhatsApp chats of conversations on banned drugs surfaced. News channels that first accessed WhatsApp chats reportedly between actor Rhea Chakraborty and others have now shifted attention to a conversation which was part of a group chat from 2017, allegedly between Deepika Padukone and her manager Karishma.

The WhatsApp chats are believed to have been retrieved from Jaya Saha, who was also Sushant Singh Rajput's talent manager and has been quizzed by probe agencies multiple times. Jaya, who is a part of Kwan agency, was also on this WhatsApp group with Deepika and Karishma, if one goes by the screenshot that has been leaked to the media.

How do investigation agencies access this data

Now, WhatsApp maintains that there is end-to-end encryption for all their messages, but it adds a note that the media and messages you back up to Google Drive or to any such cloud services, aren't protected by WhatsApp end-to-end encryption. End-to-end encryption means that the messages are visible only to the sender and recipient. 

So, to access encrypted WhatsApp data, sources say investigative agencies take a user’s phone and create a ‘clone’ of it on another device. With this, the agencies create what is called a ‘mirror image’ of your phone, and copy and then transfer all the data onto the separate device. 

Agencies can, with the help of forensic experts, retrieve all kinds of data like phone call records, messages, images, WhatsApp chats, as well as the data on your phone’s cloud service, like Google Drive or iCloud, including anything that has been deleted. Cloud services help you store and access data on the Internet.

A user’s WhatsApp message log can also be accessed through the chat backups that are saved to a user’s phone periodically. All your WhatsApp chats get downloaded as a backup file onto your phone, as a folder in your storage folder, or gets uploaded onto a cloud server, like Google Drive or iCloud.

The group chats from Jaya Saha are believed to have been retrieved in a similar manner. In the case of the conversation allegedly between Deepika and Karishma, which dates back to 2017, Jaya Saha seems to have had the backup of her chats stored online on the cloud. These chats could be easily extracted from the chat backup log. In Jaya's case, her chat backups may have dated back to 2015, as one of the other chat screenshots doing the rounds is from 2015.

The screenshots of the WhatsApp messages that were accessed by journalists show Deepika and Karishma’s user IDs ending in whatsapp.net, which is the messaging platform’s server. Source info at the bottom of the message also depicts that the particular message was retrieved by accessing the chat storage in Jaya's phone or on the cloud.


A screengrab of the WhatsApp chat accessed by NCB

Agencies can even access deleted messages, since the older messages can still be available on the older backup logs of your phone.

Even if WhatsApp chats are deleted, forensic experts can help retrieve the data from WhatsApp servers. Officially, even if a WhatsApp chat is deleted, it stays on the servers for about 30 days from the date of deletion. The other option to access WhatsApp chats is to access the backup that is saved on your local storage automatically by WhatsApp every night.

Who can access such data in India?

In India, 10 central probe and snoop agencies are empowered under the Information Technology (IT) Act to intercept, monitor or decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource. This list of ten includes the Narcotics Control Bureau, Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation as well.

The chats from Jaya surfaced during her questioning by NCB sleuths. NCB sources had also said that Jaya was also questioned about her chats with several other celebrities. The NCB is probing whether Jaya procured narcotics and banned drugs for these celebrities. Jaya Saha’s name first emerged when a chat about banned drugs between her and Rhea Chakraborty, who is in jail in connection with the drugs case, was accessed by the Enforcement Directorate.

Under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, it is illegal for a person to produce, manufacture, possess, sell, purchase, transport, warehouse, use, consume, import inter-State, export inter-State, import into India, export from India or tranship any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance, except for medical or scientific purposes. 

Are WhatsApp chats admissible as evidence in court?

Yes, presently, WhatsApp chats are admissible in courts as evidence if they satisfy criteria under the Indian Evidences Act, 1872. 

Section 65(A) of the Act says that contents of electronic records may be proved if they satisfy certain criteria. The conditions are mentioned in Section 65B of the Act. They include: The electronic device should be used regularly, the information that is present in the device should be such that it is regularly fed into the device, the device should be working properly and should not affect the information fed into it, and that the evidence produced should be a duplicate of the record on the original device.

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Meanwhile, the Sandalwood industry in Karnataka is also facing a separate drug probe, and multiple actors have been summoned for questioning. Here is a short explainer on the same:

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