WhatsApp end-to-end Encryption Feature is Legal in India, but for how long?

April 25, 2016 § Leave a comment

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WhatsApp has just released its new update having a new end-to-end encryption feature using a 256-bit key. While this feature seems to be very useful for many users from the security perspective, it also means that all user texts, images, videos and even calls cannot be viewed by anyone including WhatsApp itself.

If we look at the 2007 rule issued by Indian Department of Telecommunications, encryption which is higher than 40-bits cannot be used by any private companies without taking the permission from the Indian Government. Since WhatsApp itself will not have the decryption key, it will now find it impossible to comply with government requests for data.

It is to be mentioned here that 51% of all instant messaging services in India are using WhatsApp. And with this update, WhatsApp has just prevented the Government of India from accessing 70 million Indian users’ messages.This end-to-end encryption can fall into problems with India’s law enforcement and investigative agencies tracking terrorists.

Well, the good news for Indian WhatsApp users is that the Government has not made any comment or announcement on this yet, but it can be a big trouble in the near future. The Government of India can pursue the matter if it wishes to and even ban the WhatsApp in the country.

Such issues have been occurred in the past also. Some of the famous names are BlackBerry and Apple. BlackBerry faced similar issues with the Government of India over the threats of security posed by encrypting in the year 2010. And we all know the recent and famous Apple vs FBI case where Apple prevented government access to its data.

We also have other examples where the Government of India had restricted the use of certain digital platforms due to security risks. In the year 2015, Yahoo and Gmail were banned to use by government officials for any type of official correspondence. Other instance is of Indian Air Force where they have been asked to prevent their staff from using Chinese Smartphones in 2014 which were being used for spying.

WhatsApp could use a loophole which specifies that the rule only applies to Internet Service Providers and not Instant Messaging Services. We, being the active WhatsApp users, just hope that this issue gets fixed soon without breaching our national encryption policy.

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