As the government continues to call for traceability of WhatsApp messages, the median solution catering to government’s demand and WhatsApp encrypted chats has come in from the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB).
The security advisor for the Prime Minister’s office (PMO), NSAB has reached out to WhatsApp to help them fulfill Indian government’s demand for traceability of messages without disrupting its encryption service.
Prof. V Kamakoti of IIT Madras, a member of NSAB, has explained the solution for which WhatsApp will need to provide the phone number of the sender of a message. He explained:
- Phone number of the author of a message be made part of the message whenever it is created
- Author’s phone number ‘travels’ as part of the encrypted message as and when it is forwarded multiple times from one recipient to the next
- WhatsApp does not need to open or read the messages to enable this feature
He explained: “the creator of the message first sends it to his contact(s), these contact(s) will know who the author is. If the author of a message has no objection to these contact( s) forwarding the message to others, then there is no issue with what is proposed. If the author has an objection and yet the receiver forwards it, then it is a breach of privacy between the two parties. If the author wants that the message should not be forwarded by the recipients, then he/she can be provided an option to choose between “forward-able/not forwardable” at the time of creation of the message.”
The development comes as part of the government’s order to WhatsApp to trace messages being shared on its platform. The concerns first arose when misinformation and rumours led to a spate of lynchings in 2018. Known as unfortunate killings, the rage among people took the lives of people across Assam, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tripura, and West Bengal. Since then, the company has been under the line of fire and even the payments service had been put on hold. In India, WhatsApp is used by more than 200 Mn people.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) was asking WhatsApp to devise a technological solution to trace the origin of incendiary messages circulated on its platform. The company had denied the ministry’s directions stating that it would not compromise with its encryption process.
The company had continuously opposed such tracking mechanism as it said that it would infringe on the privacy of its users. The company also emphasised that it will have to change its entire architecture to embed elements to trace messages as encryption is its key feature.