Government Responds to WhatsApp, Says Respects Right to Privacy but It Is Subject to ‘Reasonable Restrictions’

The Ministry of Information Technology takes a dig at WhatsApp while giving clarification on its new regulations.

WhatsApp on Wednesday received a firm response from the government over the messaging app not complying with the provisions of the Intermediary Rules and alleging violation of the privacy of users. The government clarified that it had no intention of violating the privacy of WhatsApp users even if it required the instant messaging app to disclose the origin of a particular message, adding that the right to privacy was not absolute and subject to “reasonable restrictions”.

Through a press statement, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) said that the requirements for identifying the first originator of information were only in case to prevent, investigate, or punish people involved in an offense. The ministry also cited Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and said that the government is committed to ensuring the right of privacy of all its citizens.

However, the statement said that it could not be denied that in cases of mob lynching and riots repeated messages were circulated and recirculated through WhatsApp. “Hence the role of who originated is very important,” the ministry said.

Taking a dig at WhatsApp, the ministry pointed out that WhatsApp sought to mandate a privacy policy that would allow it to share data of its users with parent company Facebook for marketing and advertising purposes.

“As a significant social media intermediary, WhatsApp seeks safe harbour protection as per the provisions of the Information Technology Act. However, in a befuddling act, they seek to avoid responsibility and refuse to enact the very steps which permit them a safe harbor provision,” the ministry added.

The statement from MeitY arrived just hours after WhatsApp sued the government over the provisions of its Intermediary Rules that the company allegedly violated the right to privacy.

“Requiring messaging apps to ‘trace' chats is the equivalent of asking us to keep a fingerprint of every single message sent on WhatsApp, which would break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermines people's right to privacy,” WhatsApp had said in its statement.

The provisions of the Intermediary Rules take effect from today (Wednesday), May 26 for all social media platforms operating in the country with at least 50 lakh users. Interestingly, Facebook confirmed on Tuesday that it was planning to comply with the law and was discussing it with the government.

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