WhatsApp threatens to stop India operations if forced to break end-to-end encryption: report

  • WhatsApp stated it would shut down its operations in India if asked to break its end-to-end message encryption.
  • Its end-to-end encryption is used when users chat with other people via WhatsApp Messenger.
  • In 2021, the Government of India introduced new regulations for social media platforms.

WhatsApp, which has over 500 million monthly active users globally, has stated that it will shut down its operations in India if the platform is directed or asked to break its end-to-end message encryption and identify the source of the messages on its platform.

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WhatsApp claims that end-to-end encryption ensures only users and other people they are communicating with can listen or read what is sent and no one else. Here are more details on why WhatsApp might close its operation in India over message encryption.

WhatsApp on end-to-end message encryption

WhatsApp and its parent company, Meta, have submitted a petition to the Delhi High Court, according to a report by India Today. The petition challenges the country’s 2021 IT regulations for social media platforms, including WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, and others. These platforms have objected to the rule mandating the disclosure of the source of information on its platform.

Speaking on behalf of WhatsApp, Tejas Karia told the bench – consisting of Justice Manmeet Pritam Singh Arora and Acting Chief Justice Manmohan – that if the platform is instructed to compromise encryption, WhatsApp will cease to operate. He mentioned that people use the messaging platform only because of its encryption.

“People use WhatsApp only because of its encryption. Now, by implementing this rule, we will have to break the encryption. Otherwise, it won’t be possible to trace the originator. Billions and billions of messages may have to be stored for ‘n’ number of years because there is no limit here,” the counsel told the court.

Here’s how it started

In 2021, the Government of India introduced new regulations for social media platforms, mandating that they designate key compliance officers and produce compliance reports every month. Additionally, concerns over user privacy were raised by a contentious requirement that demanded identifying the “first originator” of messages.

As per reports, the regulation specified that information on message originators would be requested only for serious offenses like those concerning national security, public order, or crimes involving rape, sexually explicit content, or child sexual abuse. The rule also mentioned that such orders won’t be issued if less invasive methods can determine the source of the information.

Meanwhile, the messaging platform has requested in its plea that the provision be ruled “unconstitutional” and that it not be held criminally liable for breaking it. The petition said that the traceability requirement would compel the company to violate end-to-end encryption and the fundamental rights of the hundreds of millions of users who use WhatsApp’s platform for communication for privacy and free speech.