New Delhi: WhatsApp is once more on the receiving end of governmental scrutiny, this time thanks to officials in the Home Ministry.
At a meeting in New Delhi yesterday, the ministry expressed its concern over anti-national elements in the country using social media apps to carry out their activities.
In particular, the meeting highlighted the recent arrests of Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists, involved in the 2016 attack on the Nagrota Army camp in Jammu and Kashmir. The terrorists, responsible for the deaths of seven soldiers, reportedly told J&K police that they were receiving instructions from across the border over WhatsApp calls.
As such, the meeting was a forum to discuss how social media sites and apps could be monitored. Not just to prevent terrorists from using them to communicate, but to also stop them using the platform to stir up unrest in volatile areas with rumours and communal content.
Top officials from the ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY), the department of telecommunications (DoT), as well as those from security agencies and J&K police, agreed that WhatsApp is “the preferred medium of communication for anti-national forces.”
As such, the government is now pondering laws that would compel apps like it to share information with security agencies when demanded.
According to one official speaking to Times of India, security agencies have been struggling with monitoring apps like WhatApp. Because of its end-to-end encryption, they’re unable to crack into the service when investigating possible criminal elements. As such, he cited following the example of some Middle Eastern countries, where both WhatsApp voice and video calling are banned.
Of course, this isn’t even the first time the government has debated taking action like this. Back in 2016, a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court to ban the app on national security grounds, but the case was thrown out. Of course, that’s likely going to be the play here if any. After all, there’s no conceivable way WhatsApp would willingly roll back its encryption even for a limited user base. And there’s no reason it should.
With over a billion users, it’s the company’s responsibility to keep customers’ data safe, even from their own government. Having back doors built in for security agencies is just asking for corruption and religious bias to have people spied without cause. It’s the same sort of fight Apple has been having with intelligence agencies in the US for years. Not to mention, WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook is already in a lot of hot water right now for not keeping personal user data secure. It would be ludicrous for them to consider going down that road again so soon, even to cooperate with a government.
Supposedly, the Home Ministry will be meeting with representatives of various social media platforms, in order to determine a compromise and how to bring them under compliance with local laws.