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This article was published on June 18, 2019

India is still hounding WhatsApp to make its messages traceable

India is still hounding WhatsApp to make its messages traceable
Ravie Lakshmanan

The privacy vs. security battle is heating up in India.

The Indian government has once again asked WhatsApp to “digitally fingerprint” every message sent on its platform without breaking its encryption, according to The Economic Times.

The report further added, WhatsApp needs to be able to identify where a message originated, and how many people have read and forwarded it without actually opening the contents of the message.

“We don’t want to read the messages but when we see a problematic message we should be able to go to WhatsApp to help us trace the sender. They have to find a way, it is technically possible,” the government officials were quoted as saying.

With more than 350 million active users, India is WhatsApp’s biggest market.

This need to trace all messages comes as the Facebook-owned service remains an actively exploited platform for misinformation, hate speech, and spreading child abuse videos.

Fake rumors spread on the chat app led to a series of mob lynchings last year, leading the company to impose restrictions on how many times messages can be forwarded. Despite introducing a machine learning system to detect and weed out inauthentic behavior, WhatsApp is still grappling to contain the problem.

Although this is not the Indian government’s first attempt to police messages on WhatsApp, the administration still doesn’t seem to understand the very idea of the app — end-to-end encryption.

This means, by default, only the sender and the recipient can see the messages that are being exchanged — not even WhatsApp.

The new government request comes as part of proposed changes to the IT Act to ensure traceability of all content shared on WhatApp — and online platforms in general — raising surveillance concerns and questions about online censorship.

The development also comes months after Australia and Singapore passed laws that gives authorities sweeping powers to bypass encryption protections, and regulate online platforms, and chat groups.

While WhatsApp has previously turned down the Indian government’s demand to provide it with a solution to track the origin of messages on its platform, it remains to be seen if the company will acquiesce this time around.

Ultimately though, nobody would want to use a messaging app that functions as a backdoor for government snooping.

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