The government has reiterated its support for the traceability requirement. It has made clear that social media platforms must “re-engineer their platforms” to comply with the intermediary rules.
In a recent meeting with social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, the Ministry of Electronics and Information technology argued that “traceability has nothing to do with breaking end-to-end encryption.” It touted it as a necessity to preserve national security and law and order in the country, ET reported.
The statement comes in the backdrop of WhatsApp’s lawsuit challenging the new Intermediary Guidelines’ traceability mandate.
The stance of new IT Minister on Traceability
The Minister of Electronics and IT, Ashiwini Vaishnaw, and Minister of State of IT, Rajeev Chandrasekhar held a series of meetings with executives of Facebook and Twitter. Stating the government’s stance on traceability, a top government official said:
“Our mandate is user safety and a safe and trusted Internet. If that is the objective, how can traceability not be part of our toolkit?.. You as an intermediary should tag every packet that originates on your platform and should be able to go back to something that is illegal. You should find a way to do it.”
The official further stated that the new leadership aims to ensure an open Internet, which is based on trust, user safety, and privacy. The official also acknowledged the government does not want any confrontation since every platform, technology company, and manufacturing technology company is a stakeholder in India’s journey towards a trillion-dollar digital economy.
The Ministry has based its narrative on the responsibility of social media platforms towards their users. Earlier, the Mr. Vaishnaw said that the new Intermediary Rules will empower users. The government official also added that the IT rules are about user’s safety and about ensuring responsibilities of intermediaries to their users and there is no government in that.
End-to-End Encryption and Traceability
At present, WhatsApp says is not aware of the user messages because of end-to-end encryption. While the law mandates WhatsApp to provide the identities of only those who are credibly accused of a crime, the company claims it cannot do that without breaking end-to-end encryption. However, there are multiple views around the issue, and the government has suggested an alpha-numeric hash system to trace the origin of messages.
The IT Rules, 2021
The Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, issued by the Ministry of Information and Technology, states that “significant social media intermediates” will lose the protection provided by Section 79 of the Information Technology Act if they do not comply with the guidelines.
According to the new rules, social media companies must also appoint Indian nationals to key compliance positions, establish a framework for responding to complaints, and remove information within 36 hours of receiving a legal order. Further, to eradicate pornography, automated tools should be implemented.