India forces WhatsApp to backtrack on enforcing controversial new policy

The Whats App messaging application is seen on a phone screen

"We will not limit the functionality of how WhatsApp works in the coming weeks".

It adds the threat that anything someone writes can be traced back to them takes away "people's privacy and would have a chilling effect" on what people say even in private settings, violating universally recognised principles of free expression and human rights.

The Indian government was yet to react to the lawsuit.

Amid a major controversy over intermediary guidelines enforced by the Centre on tech giants like Facebook, Google, WhatsApp and Twitter, Facebook-led messaging giant, WhatsApp has opened another frontier by suing the Indian government over free speech and privacy protection issues.

On May 18, the ministry of electronics and information technology (Meity) had shot off a second missive to WhatsApp to roll back its new privacy policy, implemented with effect from May 15, or face action under the country's laws.

Furthermore, WhatsApp said non-compliant users risk inaccessibility.

WhatsApp on Monday said it will not limit the functionality for users not agreeing to its new privacy policy but will continue to remind users about the update.

When the concept of "traceability" was first proposed in early 2019, dozens of organisations wrote to the Indian government about how such a provision would violate the privacy of Indian users. Citing KS Puttaswamy v. Union of India (the 2017 Aadhar judgement), it has prayed for the prevention of criminal liability in the event of non-compliance with judicial orders for traceability.

WhatsApp claims that to enable "traceability", they will end to break end-to-end encryption-which is its main USP. The company is now fighting the same before the Supreme Court of Brazil on a similar matter.

"While the majority of users who have received the new terms of service have accepted them, we appreciate some people haven't had the chance to do so yet".

This makes the upcoming PDP bill even more important.

On 25 February, the government rolled out sweeping regulations for social media and video streaming platforms, requiring them to remove any content flagged by authorities within 36 hours.

It must also be noted that none of the three biggest social media intermediaries in India have complied with the Rules so far. Since then, the company has been reminding users to accept the privacy policy update or lose several key functions. "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", a WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement.

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