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WhatsApp, Govt Discuss Traceability Of Messages To Curb Fake News

WhatsApp, Govt Discuss Traceability Of Messages To Curb Fake News

WhatsApp has yet to received RBI nod for its payment services

Govt demands access to trace users who send inflammatory messages

Company officials yet to provide an answer to Centre’s questions

Facebook-owned messaging platform WhatsApp’s executives held discussions with Indian government officials on tracing messages which trigger public unrest.

In a bid to curb fake news, the government had demanded that the company find a solution to trace the messages being shared on the app, which the company initially declined to do.

During WhatsApp chief Chris Daniel’s India visit in October, information technology (IT) minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had sought a technological solution from WhatsApp to trace the origin of fake messages. He also threatened abetment charges if no action is taken.

A media report has cited senior officials saying that the meeting — conducted on video conference — was initiated by WhatsApp. However, the officials mostly heard the government’s points without providing a final response on the issues discussed under the agenda: “technical issues on traceability”.

WhatsApp is fighting regulatory hurdles on multiple fronts. The company is butting heads with the Centre over transparency while also struggling with an RBI directive on data localisation that has put a stop to its digital payments feature.

To appease the government, the company has already had discussions with Telangana IT minister K T Rama Rao to set up the office in Hyderabad, appointed Komal Lahiri as the grievance officer for WhatsApp in India and Ezetap’s CEO Abhijit Bose as WhatsApp’s India head.

The flipside of the government’s demand for tracing messages in the name of stopping fake news is that there have been a few cases where messages shared on WhatsApp have landed people in jail. A Livemint report talked about multiple cases of arrests due to messages on WhatsApp criticising the government. These people have been charged under Section 124A (Sedition), Section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings), Section 153A of the IPC, and Section 67 of the IT Act among others.

One such case was of Krishna, an admin of a WhatsApp group called ‘The Balse Boys’, was arrested in May last year after a member shared a morphed image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

With the government intent on getting further access to the private conversations of Indians, at the time when fake news is at an all-time high, the days WhatsApp’s stance of end-to-end encryption may be numbered.

[The development was reported by ET.]