IT Ministry officials and WhatsApp senior executives discussed through a video call this week the contentious issue of traceability of messages on the popular platform, a source said. The government is pressing on with its demand for identification of message originators on the platform, which has drawn flak over spread of fake messages.
According to a government official, the discussions with senior executives of WhatsApp took place via video-conference on December 4. However, it was not immediately clear if the meeting resulted in any firm commitment from WhatsApp’s side.
When contacted, a WhatsApp spokesperson said: “WhatsApp regularly engages with the Government of India to discuss our commitment to maintaining a private and safe platform for people to communicate with one another. We look forward to continued discussions on how we can work together towards these common goals.”
WhatsApp has been under tremendous pressure to put in place a mechanism to curb fake news on its messaging platform that have incited mob fury in India. Over a dozen people have been killed across the country this year in mob lynchings, fuelled by rumours circulating on WhatsApp.
The rumours ranged from suspicion of stealing children to victims believed to be killing cows. Riots have been instigated by people forwarding and misinterpreting videos on WhatsApp.
The government has, on several occasions, warned the company that it cannot evade responsibility if its messaging service is used to spread false information. The Centre has directed WhatsApp to develop tools to combat fake or false messages and, more importantly, to identify message originators.
But according to WhatsApp, its system has been designed in a manner to not collect or store a record of who created or sent the message. It believes that creating a permanent record of messages for the purpose of future government surveillance would change the very premise of WhatsApp and would eliminate the ability for people to have a private conversation online.
It believes that mandating technology companies to go in for ‘traceability’ would contradict the privacy and free speech protections, and that requiring the collection of and access to personal data, even when a crime has not been committed, would have serious global ramifications.