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WhatsApp Sues India Government Over New Internet Rules

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(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc.’s messaging platform WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit challenging Indian rules that would require the company to provide access to encrypted messages, aggravating an already tense relationship between Silicon Valley giants and the government in a country where they have hundreds of millions of users.WhatsApp filed the lawsuit in the Delhi High Court on Tuesday evening, the company confirmed. The case could come up for consideration as early as this week.“Requiring messages to trace chats is the equivalent of asking us to keep a fingerprint of every single message sent on Whatsapp which would break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermines people’s right to privacy,” the company said in a statement on Wednesday. “We have consistently joined civil society and experts around the world in opposing requirements that would violate the privacy of our users.”Whatsapp will continue to engage with the government “on practical solutions aimed at keeping people safe, including responding to valid legal requests for information,” it added in the statement.

Already facing growing regulatory scrutiny around the world, companies from Facebook to Twitter Inc. to Alphabet Inc.’s Google are in the crosshairs of India’s government, which in February introduced tightened rules governing social media, digital media and streaming operators. The regulations require the companies, called intermediaries in the rules, to have mechanisms to address user complaints, appoint compliance officers and submit monthly compliance reports.

WhatsApp’s refusal to comply with guidelines is an “act of defiance,” the government said in a statement on Wednesday. Any operations being run in India are subject to the law of the land, it said.

“At one end, WhatsApp seeks to mandate a privacy policy wherein it will share the data of all its users with its parent company, Facebook, for marketing and advertising purposes,” according to the statement. “On the other hand, WhatsApp makes every effort to refuse the enactment of the Intermediary Guidelines which are necessary to uphold law and order and curb the menace of fake news.”

Read more: Facebook, Netflix Face Fresh Scrutiny as India Tightens GripThe three-month deadline for the tech giants to comply ended on Tuesday and they are now required to take down unlawful content quickly. Under the policy, messaging apps are required to provide the identity of the originators of unlawful messages on their platforms, forcing the likes of WhatsApp to decrypt messages and dilute user privacy.

Meanwhile, the government’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology asked companies including Google’s YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp to provide the status of their readiness with the intermediary rules. In a letter, a copy of which was seen by Bloomberg News, the ministry asked the companies to provide compliance and grievance officials’ details and physical addresses in India as soon as possible.

WhatsApp has over half a billion users in India, where it has been enmeshed in a series of clashes with the government over the last couple of years. India’s ruling party has been under fire recently for trying to quell social media criticism of its handling of the Covid pandemic.

(Updates with government response in sixth and seventh paragraphs)

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