WhatsApp sues Modi Government – cites Indian constitution

Tech giants fight to uphold privacy and Indian democracy!

WhatsApp sues Modi Government – cites Indian constitution
WhatApp defends the Indian constitution

Facebook-owned WhatsApp filed a legal complaint in the Delhi high court on 26 May 2021 against the Indian government seeking to block the New Media Rules coming into force on Wednesday. The imputation is that the new regulations would force WhatsApp and Facebook to break individual privacy protections.

According to press reports, the lawsuit requests the Delhi high court to declare that one of the new rules is a violation of citizen’s privacy rights in the Indian constitution. This regulation requires social media companies to identify the ‘first originator of information’ when demanded by the authorities.

While the new rules require social media companies to reveal the names of people credibly accused of wrongdoing, WhatsApp says that it cannot just do this alone in practice. Since messages are end-to-end encrypted, to comply with the law, it says it would have to break the encryption at both ends – for receivers and originators of messages.

“Requiring messaging apps to ‘trace’ chats is the equivalent of asking us to keep a fingerprint of every single message sent on WhatsApp, which would break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermines people’s right to privacy,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement. “We have consistently joined civil society and experts around the world in opposing requirements that would violate the privacy of our users. In the meantime, we will also continue to engage with the Government of India on practical solutions aimed at keeping people safe, including responding to valid legal requests for the information available to us.”

Sources familiar with the matter said that given that non-compliance with the IT rules risks criminal penalties, the company felt it had no choice but to take the issue to court. The company has opposed laws or legal action that would break end-to-end encryption in the past, too, sources said, referring to a matter currently being heard by the Brazilian Supreme Court.

Government spokesmen in recent days have questioned the sanctity of the privacy of messaging apps, saying that WhatsApp routinely shares this information with its parent FaceBook and that the Indian constitution’s protection of privacy ‘is not absolute.’

In its plea, WhatsApp cited a 2017 Indian Supreme Court ruling supporting privacy in the Justice Puttaswamy case. In that case, the court found that privacy is sacrosanct except where legality, necessity, and proportionality weighed against it. WhatsApp says that the New Media Rules fail all three of those tests, starting with the lack of explicit parliamentary backing.

Other news reports cite Riana Pfefferkorn of the Stanford Internet Observatory, who wrote in March, “The new traceability and filtering requirements may put an end to end-to-end encryption in India.” There are several other court challenges to the new rules pending in the Delhi High court and elsewhere. Digital media sites contest the section that applies the new IT rules to digital media publications and platforms. In one case, journalists argue that the underlying law does not support the extension of technology regulations to digital publishers, including decency and taste standards.

There are more significant issues, such as the Indian government’s ambivalence towards the tech giants. While it has to make obligatory nationalistic statements about the location of data and servers, most experts see these as hubris in the face of a poor understanding of how technology works nowadays. A minister insists that “WhatsApp must find a technical solution” to the privacy issue.

Notably, Facebook had an established policy enunciated by its senior official in India of going soft on the Modi government, which the Wall Street Journal also exposed. On the one hand, the government maintains a social media army to influence elections, undermine violence and human rights investigations, and troll outspoken journalists and citizens. And on the other, it goes into a tizzy when citizens throw light on the tragic reality of its mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic and especially its second wave that has wrought unnecessary death and misery on every section of the population in every state.

Tensions have also increased in the past week after a police visit to Twitter’s offices in Delhi and Gurgaon earlier this week because the micro-blogging platform labeled posts by a spokesman for the ruling party at the center and others as containing “manipulated media” and forged content. Many of the Indian government requests display hubris and a total lack of self-belief and self-confidence in the institution and hard-won traditions of democratic governance.

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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