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Written by: Ayushi Arya (Intern)
Edited by: Anubhav Yadav (Content Head & Developer)

On Tuesday 24 th May, WhatsApp filed a law suit in the Delhi High Court against the government’s new IT Rules 2021.

BACKGROUND

The Central Government issued the new IT Rules for Digital Media platforms on 25 th February and gave three months’ time to them to carry out these guidelines, which ended on 25 th May. According to the new IT guidelines 2021:

1. All digital media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. now needs a larger grievance redressal mechanism which will add a Chief Compliance officer, a Nodal Contact person and a Resident Grievance officer.

2. All social media platforms have to publish these details on their apps and websites and users must be explain about the process of complaint in case they want to make against any content on the platform. And the complaints made by the users must be recognized within 24 hours of receiving and these complaints need to be actioned upon within a period of 15 days from the date of receiving.

3. Any content which is prima facie in the nature of any material which exposes the private area of an individual, shows or represent such person in any sexual act or conduct, or is of impersonation in an electronic form, adding artificially morphed images of such person shall need to be removed or disabled within 24 hours from the receiving of complaint through redressal mechanism.

On Tuesday evening, a plea filed in the Delhi High Court challenging the constitutional validity of the government’s new IT guidelines and prays for stopping it to come into force. It also challenged the “traceability clause” alleging that this would force social media companies to collect and store who-said-what and who-shared-what and this will cause violation of a person’s right to privacy. By this the petitioner also claimed that the new IT rules contravene the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India of landmark case of KS Puttuswamy v. Union of India, which holds that the right to privacy is protected as a fundamental right under Article 14, 19, and 21 of the constitution of India.

WhatsApp states that for collecting and storing messages and posts of every user digital media platforms would require more data than they needed and WhatsApp will have to re-engineer the app just for India, which won’t happen. If Whatsapp had to carry out with the rules, it would have to create a new version of the app that supports traceability and doesn’t have end-to-end encryption. Traceability clause forces digital media companies to leak the names of people who shared the post or message even if they did not create it. By this innocent people could get caught up in investigations or even go to jail, even if they do not want to cause any harm by sharing it in the first place.

On Wednesday evening, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the new IT Rules that require WhatsApp to provide them that origin of flagged messages wouldn’t impact what it said was the “normal functioning of WhatsApp”. He said that countries like US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada have their own rules that require social media firms to allow for legal interception. He also stated that to prevent norms from coming into effect through the IT guidelines is an unfortunate action done by the WhatsApp and further, said that the Right to Privacy come with reasonable restrictions. The requirement of tracing origin of messages as per the IT Rules is for prevention and investigation of “very serious offences” related to sovereignty and integrity of India.

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