Breaking encryption will end WhatsApp: Delhi High Court told in challenge to IT Rules

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WhatsApp told the Delhi High Court today that if it is made to break encryption of messages, the message platform will end.

Advocate Tejas Karia appeared for the US-based company and said that people use the platform because of the privacy assured by it and because the messages exchanged on it are end-to-end encrypted.

“As a platform, we are saying, if we are told to break encryption, then WhatsApp goes,” Karia told a Bench of Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Manmeet Pritam Singh Arora.

The Court was hearing the petitions filed by WhatsApp and Facebook (now known as Meta) challenging Rule 4(2) of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

Rule 4(2) stipulates that a significant social media intermediary shall enable the identification of the first originator of the information on its computer resource when an order to this effect is passed by a court or by the competent authority.

Karia told the Court today that this provision would require WhatsApp to store millions and millions of messages for a number of years, requirement that exists nowhere else in the world.

“We will have to keep a complete chain and we don’t know which messages will be asked to be decrypted. It means millions and millions of messages will have to be stored for a number of years,” he said.

He further stressed that the Rule under challenge goes beyond the parent Information Technology Act, which does not provide for breaking of encryption.

The Bench queried if a similar law exists anywhere else in the world.

“Have these matters been taken up anywhere in the world? You have never been asked to share the information anywhere in the world? Even in South America?”

Karia replied,

“No, not even in Brazil.”

Meanwhile, Central Government Standing Counsel (CGSC) Kirtiman Singh contended that people know the things that can happen on social media and the idea behind the Rule is to trace the originator of the message.

Singh said that ultimately, there has to be some mechanism to trace the messages because that is the need of the hour and that WhatsApp has faced some very difficult questions before the United States Congress.

The Court called for a balance to be struck. It ultimately adjourned the case to August 14 and said that these two matters will be heard with a batch of cases that have been transferred to the Delhi High Court by the Supreme Court.

That batch of matters also challenge various provisions of the IT Rules 2021.

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