WhatsApp Versus Indian Government

The whole nation is in turmoil due to the provisions of the new Information Technology Rules, 2021. To understand the situation better, we will see what the rules are and why they are causing conflicts with the Government. 

New IT rules that undermine the power of social media

The proposed new rules will cover social media companies like Facebook and Twitter, OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, and digital news publishers like The News Minute, Scroll, Quint, The Wire, Newslaundry, The Cue. 

Indian Government revealed the new social media rules on February 25, 2021. As per the new rules, social media intermediaries will now come under a three-tier regulatory regime. In this context, “social media intermediary” refers to an intermediary which primarily enables interaction between two or more users and allows them to create, upload, share, disseminate, modify or access information using its services. 

  • The First Tier

The first tier follows a self-regulating mechanism. The social media intermediary is required to appoint a resident Chief Compliant Officer, nodal contact person, and a resident Grievance Officer. The Chief Compliant Officer shall ensure compliance with the Act and the rules thereunder. The nodal officers shall coordinate with the law enforcement agencies to ensure compliance with their orders. The Grievance Officer shall acknowledge the complaint of a user within 24 hours and dispose of such complaint within a period of fifteen days from the date of its receipt. 

  • The Second Tier

The second tier is self-regulated by a self-regulating body. This body consists of a retired judge or an eminent person from the department of media, entertainment, or any relevant field. It has the power to censure, modify or delete any content it deems a cognizable offense.

  • The Third Tier

The third tier follows an oversight mechanism. It establishes an Inter-Departmental Committee that mainly performs the functions of the self-regulatory bodies. 

Some of the chief issues that worry the social media companies

  • Privacy concerns

One of the provisions of the new rules requires that the social media intermediaries disclose the identity of the “first originator” of the information that threatens the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, or public order.

  • Usage of AI

The Indian Government also requires the social media intermediaries to deploy technology-based measures to identify information that depicts any act or simulation in any form depicting rape, child sexual abuse, or conduct, whether explicit or implicit. 

Reactions to the imposed IT rules:

Obtaining the identification of the first originator would break the end-to-end encryption. By breaking the encryption, users cannot safely exchange chats, photos, or information on social media platforms without them being open to access not just by bureaucrats and government bodies but also by hackers.

While it is necessary to deploy Artificial Intelligence (AI) to monitor objectionable content, there are certain limitations to implementing it. With the number of users increasing, it is laborious to moderate the amount of content generated every day. 

WhatsApp’s stand against the Government

While Facebook has complied with the new rules and Twitter has remained a silent bystander, WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit in India which seeks to block the new digital ethics code from coming into force. For WhatsApp to identify the first originator of even one message, it has to restructure the entire platform. This feature compromises the privacy of billions of people who communicate digitally. The other concern is that freedom of speech and any form of expression of dissent would be hampered. 

IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has stated, “It is WhatsApp’s responsibility to find a technical solution, whether through encryption or otherwise.” It will be interesting to witness how far India would go to press WhatsApp to comply with the new rule.