In February, the government had notified new IT Rules seeking to track the originator of messages in case of a ‘law and order’ situation.

WhatsApp on phone
Atom Data Privacy Tuesday, March 23, 2021 - 15:34

In a possible solution, to solve the deadlock over tracking messages on WhatsApp, the government has proposed that WhatsApp allot an alpha-numeric hash to every message sent through its platform. In case of any illegal activity, the originator of the message can be traced without breaking the app’s encryption as the hash can go along with the message, officials told the Economic Times (ET).

“The government is willing to work with WhatsApp to come up with a solution to enable traceability of message originators without breaking encryption,” officials further told ET.

In February, the government notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 as part of which it introduced the requirement to trace the originator of “mischievous” digital information, including messages and tweet, when it is flagged by a court of law or an authorised government agency.  

WhatsApp, which has its largest market in India with over 400 million users, had said earlier that it is evaluating all options while remaining committed to offering users end-to-end encryption on its platform. 

However, the government has maintained its demand for compliance, calling it a “law and order” requirement. 

WhatsApp is yet to officially communicate its position and is currently in ongoing discussions. It has three months to comply with the notification. 

The messaging platform has contended that billions of messages are exchanged on its platform every day, making it extremely difficult to keep track of them. 

Meanwhile, the government is of the view that WhatsApp need not store the entire message but only the hash so that it can be traced back in the event of a law and order situation. 

Officials also pointed out to ET that the IT Act provides for companies to decrypt messages when ordered by the government, but the government has never enforced that clause.  

WhatsApp chief, Will Cathcart, has said the company is hopeful of finding a solution to the Indian government’s traceability demand without breaking end-to-end encryption.

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