Snooping boosts government's WhatsApp traceability case

It means anyone can now hack into a device, take control of it and use it to spread malicious rumours that are detrimental to national security or those that lead to incidents of lynching, the official said.

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The government is of the view that the lawsuit by Facebook is an attempt to push back attempts by several governments, including India’s, to bring about a regulation on traceability.
NEW DELHI: India’s demand that messages on WhatsApp should be traceable has only been strengthened after the recent snooping scandal allegedly involving Israeli surveillance firm NSO on the instant messaging platform, a top government official told ET.

Following the incident — in which devices of 1,400 people globally, including 121 Indians, were allegedly compromised after they were infected by NSO’s Pegasus spyware — the government’s concerns have only increased, the official said on condition of anonymity. It means anyone can now hack into a device, take control of it and use it to spread malicious rumours that are detrimental to national security or those that lead to incidents of lynching, the official said.

WhatsApp declined to comment.


“This is precisely why we need to know where a particular message which is leading to unrest has originated from,” the official said, although clarifying that the government was not asking WhatsApp to break its end-to-end encryption feature, but only reveal the origin of a message that has been flagged by law enforcement agencies.

After WhatApp filed a suit against NSO in a California court last week, there were allegations that the timing coincided with India finalizing its Information Technology [Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules] 2018, which make social media companies more responsible for content on their platforms and trace the origin of messages in case of a law and order situation.

The government is of the view that the lawsuit by Facebook is an attempt to push back attempts by several governments, including India’s, to bring about a regulation on traceability.
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The Ministry of Electronics and IT told the SC last month that it would notify the Intermediary Guidelines by January 15. The official said the snooping row would not come in the way of the government drafting the guidelines.
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