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Difficult for WhatsApp to implement traceability mandated by new IT rules, FB tells MPs’ panel

Social media giants Facebook & Google deposed before Standing Committee on IT and said they don't read users' messages & emails, and that they take privacy of users very seriously.

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New Delhi: It is difficult for Facebook to implement traceability for its messaging service WhatsApp as mandated under the new IT rules, senior officials of the social media giant told a parliamentary panel Tuesday.

Facebook officials, who deposed before the panel, told the MPs that WhatsApp has not been designed to trace the “first originator” of any message.

“They said that traceability can’t be an India specific thing and they have not implemented it anywhere in the world. They further said that the product is end to end encrypted. Breaking it will violate users’ privacy,” one of the MPs who attended the meeting told ThePrint.

End-to-end encryption refers to a system of communication where only the communicating users can read the messages.

The issue of traceability has become a bone of contention between WhatsApp and the central government since the new IT rules were published on 26 May.

The rules call for traceability of messages by platforms like WhatsApp and empower law enforcement agencies to demand that such platforms trace the “first originator” of any message. Non-compliance invites penalties under the new rules.

Also read: Around 1,460 news sites, 40 OTTs submit company details to Modi govt under new IT rules

‘Take users’ privacy very seriously’

Facebook and Google were called to depose before the Standing Committee on Information Technology on the subject of “Safeguarding citizens rights and prevention of misuse of social online news media platforms including special emphasis on women security in the digital space”.

Officials from Facebook were asked to respond to the MPs on whether WhatsApp was reading users’ messages, which they denied.

Representatives from Google also denied that it could read emails of people using the platform.

Both Facebook and Google told the parliamentary panel that they take users’ privacy very seriously, said another MP.

“The representatives from Facebook and Google said that they are not reading messages and emails of people using their platform. They said that it is not possible to do so,” another member of the panel said.

Google officials further told the MPs that they were a search engine and content aggregators but they do not generate their own content.

Representatives of both companies reiterated that they respect Indian laws.

“When an MP asked if the companies are feeling safe in India, officials from Facebook and Google said that they don’t feel intimidated operating in India,” said the first MP quoted above.

When asked if the two companies were taking down hate content from their respective platforms, the officials said there was no clarity right at present on who will flag content as objectionable.

“Representatives from both the companies wanted to know if there will be some nodal authority, which will flag if some objectionable content that has been posted needs to be brought down. They wanted to know who is going to give them the order,” the second MP said.

Facebook was represented by Namrata Singh, associate general counsel, and Shivnath Thukral, director, public policy (Asia Pacific). Google was represented by Aman Jain, head of government affairs and public policy, and Gitanjali Duggal, India legal head.

Also read: New IT rules should use civil, not criminal penalties to make platforms more accountable


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