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DNA Explainer: What will happen to user privacy now, new social guidelines might impact WhatsApp's encryption

Social media platforms will have to identify the originator of a message that is considered to be anti-national and against security and sovereignty.

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DNA Web Team

Updated: Feb 25, 2021, 07:58 PM IST

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The government of India's all-new Information Technology Rules 2021 for OTT platforms, social-media companies and messaging apps was announced on Thursday. This includes intermediary guidelines and a digital media ethics code. 

The new rules mandates that social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram will have to identify the originator of a message that is considered to be anti-national and against security and sovereignty of the country. What this rule means for messaging apps like Telegram, Signal and WhatsApp, as per their version is that they will have to break their end-to-end encryption - thus making it difficult for them to comply with the government's guidelines.

Facebook owned WhatsApp had earlier too put down government's request to identify the origin of messages, citing it could break end-to-end encryption. "Building traceability would undermine end-to-end encryption and the private nature of WhatsApp, creating the potential for serious misuse. WhatsApp will not weaken the privacy protections we provide," IANS had quoted a WhatsApp spokesperson saying in a statement in 2018.

So, if WhatsApp refuses to comply with the government's new media guidelines, will the platform face a ban in the country? And why is WhatsApp so rigid about it's end-to-end encryption norms? To understand this better, first lets see how WhatsApp's Personal Messaging works.

How Personal Messaging works

WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption is used when you message another person using WhatsApp Messenger.

End-to-end encryption ensures only you and the person with whom you are communicating can read or listen to the message, not even WhatsApp.

With end-to-end encryption, your messages are secured with a lock and only the recipient of any message can unlock and read them.

This system is automatically run without any need to turn on settings or set up special secret chats to secure your messages.

What government's new rule says 

Intermediary shall not be required to disclose the contents of any message or any other information.

The app or platform doesn't need to alert the user who in this case could be the originator of a message.

Government has cleared that information would not require these apps to break end-to-end encryption.

Government is only asking for the identity of the person who originated the message and not the message itself.

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