Soon after WhatsApp introduced 256-bit end-to-end encryption for its users, a Gurgaon-based activist Sudhir Yadav, filed an RTI asking for how and why the messaging service was allowed to implement tough encryption. After getting a reply stating “no such information exists in this office,” he approached the Supreme Court and filed a petition to ban WhatsApp in India.
The Purpose of Whatsapp Ban
According to Yadav, WhatsApp released a white paper with all the information related to the encryption. The white paper states that decrypting messages, images, documents, calls and videos are nearly impossible for the government agencies, even if it is required for national security purposes since WhatsApp itself doesn’t have the decryption key.’
While Indian laws allow for 40-bit permission, Yadav believes, WhatsApp’s 256-bit encryption will lead to “wide-scale chaos and will impound threat to India’s national security,”. With the move, Yadav may try to hog some limelight, but he claims to make some valid argument to ban the messaging service.
In his message, he says, “.. there are 115,792,089,237,316,195,423,570,985,008,687,907,853,269,984,665,640,564,039,457,584,007,913,129,639,935 possible combinations of keys to decrypt the (Whatsapp) message and to read it, which means that even if anyone have A hundred thousand super computers and each of those super computer can try a million billion keys every second, even then it will take trillions of trillions of trillions of years to decrypt a single message/document/call/video/image and then read it.”
Besides Whatsapp, the petitioner has also mentioned other messengers such as Hike, Secure Chat, LeuPost, Wicker me, Viber, Telegram etc which are using encrypted messaging, and causing ‘national threat’.
Yadav wants the service to be banned because WhatsApp decided to encrypt all messages that are exchanged on their platform. In case any terrorist group is making any plans to harm India, the intelligence or police may not be able to read those messages and take appropriate action. He has also made complaints to the Department of Telecommunications, TRAI and Ministry of Communications and IT to take right measures against such apps that violate the law.
It is important to note that the Indian government’s encryption policy is only for cellular carriers and for Internet service providers. And as WhatsApp is an OTT player, it does not have any operations in India; it cannot come under the government’s encryption rules.
A similar incident occurred in Brazil yesterday, when a regional judge asked all telephone operators to block WhatsApp as it failed to turn over data related to an ongoing drug trafficking investigation. WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum took to Facebook to clarify that the company encrypts messages end-to-end in order to keep the information safe and secure. He further mentioned saying “we have no intention of compromising the security of our billion users around the world.”
Is Whatsapp Breaking Indian Laws?
Sudhir has mentioned four laws related to Indian Constitution which are being broken by Whatsapp and other such messenger apps due to the encryption policy:
“Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, which grants the Government the power to order the interception of messages;”
“Rule 419A of the Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951, which lays down the procedural requirements which must be followed for telephone tapping to be legal;”
“Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, which deals with the power to issue directions for interception or monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource;”
“Information Technology (Directions for Interception or Monitoring or Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009.”
Although the petitioner agrees that social media users need to protect their privacy and safety; but also argues that there has to be a balance between privacy and national security.
Before filing this petition at Supreme Court, Sudhir had written letters to TRAI and Ministry of Communications and IT; but received no reply.
It would be interesting to observe how Supreme Court judges this case (on merit?) and what decision the bench takes. In case the bench concludes that Whatsapp’ encryption policy is indeed breaking Indian laws, then appropriate action may be taken against them.
We will keep you updated as we receive more information about this petition.
Source : trak & BGR