It was in early 2010 when instant messaging platform, WhatsApp, was launched. The world was taken by storm with the technology that connected friends, family and even strangers from every part of the world. Discussions, memes, photos and videos, do’s and don’ts became common on the social media application, and in the recent past, has also become a place to circulate fake news.
Group chats on WhatsApp have circulated messages about shortage of salt and sugar, a fake picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi sweeping the floor in his younger days, a fake video that led to the Muzaffarnagar riots, and even the new Rs 2000 note concealing a GPS chip.
The latest viral WhatsApp message doing the rounds is that the Ministry of Interior Regulation is recording and saving phone conversations and monitoring social networking platforms.
The WhatsApp forward even goes so far as to claim that “your devices are connected to ministry systems".
Let’s look at the facts:
First, India doesn’t have a Ministry of Interior Regulation, it’s a figment of the WhatsApp creator’s imagination. We also checked the Press Information Bureau and the Ministry of Telecommunications website. They have not released any circular or press release that can validate these messages that are currently doing the rounds. The news is only circulated on WhatsApp, which is far from a credible and verifiable source of information.
Second, Article 21 of the Indian Constitution clearly states that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. Under this, ideally, no governmental/public body can record, save or monitor a citizen’s private conversations. The government of a democratic country cannot, without any legal circumstance, invade the privacy of its citizens.
But that’s not to say that the government isn’t necessarily spying on you through covert means. In fact, in 2013, the Indian government rolled out a surveillance programme allowing security agencies and income tax officials to tap phone calls, and monitor social media accounts of selected targets without oversight by courts or parliaments, reported Reuters. According to 2016 Medianama report, the surveillance system is live in New Delhi, Delhi and Mumbai and would be operationalised in the rest of the country in a phased manner. But this has been limited to selected targets, it’s not blanket surveillance. And even if the government is spying on you, it’s hardly going to send you a WhatsApp forward informing you of it.
Third, WhatsApp is almost completely encrypted from end-to-end, which makes it almost impossible to track the movement of messages, making it fairly simple for someone to start a trail of fake news messages without ever being able to go back to the original sender. Additionally, if this news were true, it would have been covered by the media, even if not by the government.
The only message that should be circulated is to inform everyone about the lack of authenticity of these messages.