WhatsApp Threatens to Exit India Over Message Encryption Dispute

WhatsApp warns it will cease operations in India if forced to break message encryption.

  • WhatsApp warns it will cease operations in India if forced to break message encryption.
  • Delhi High Court hears petitions challenging a rule requiring identification of message originators.
  • Government emphasizes importance of tracing message originators, while WhatsApp asserts commitment to privacy.

WhatsApp has issued a stern warning to the Delhi High Court, stating that it will shut down operations in India if compelled to compromise its end-to-end encryption of messages. The platform’s stance was articulated by Advocate Tejas Karia, who highlighted WhatsApp’s unwavering commitment to privacy and encrypted communication during proceedings.

The court is currently reviewing petitions filed by WhatsApp and Facebook (now Meta) challenging Rule 4(2) of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. This rule mandates social media intermediaries to facilitate the identification of the first originator of information upon court or authority orders, posing significant challenges to WhatsApp’s encryption policies.

While WhatsApp argues that complying with this rule would entail storing billions of messages for extended periods, a requirement not imposed elsewhere globally, the government stresses the importance of tracing message originators, particularly in the current context. With over 500 million users in India, WhatsApp is a crucial communication tool for both citizens and government bodies, making the dispute pivotal for the country’s digital landscape.

The court has adjourned the case until August 14, and it will be heard alongside other challenges to provisions of the IT Rules 2021. WhatsApp’s insistence on maintaining end-to-end encryption reflects its core value of prioritizing user privacy and security, a stance that has defined its service since the implementation of encryption in 2016.