Centre urge to reveal source of WhatsApp harmful texts

Representaive Image (Photo by Reuters)

Amidst a row over spying of WhatsApp of select personalities including social activists, journalists and advocates, the Centre is firm on insisting that social media companies disclose the source of malicious messages.

As the Supreme Court gave the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) three months time to frame the guidelines to regulate social media, a top official told DH that the government would insist on traceability of the source of malicious messages and not the content. 

The government is questioning the timing of the disclosure of hacking incident by WhatsApp, particularly against the backdrop of the Centre having told the court that it is finalising a draft Information Technology Intermediaries Guidelines, 2018 to curb the misuse of social media platforms in disseminating fake news and hate messages.

The government, for its part, maintained that it was working on tightening rules for the social media companies in India by putting in place a mechanism to increase the accountability of such platforms, particularly in the interest of national security.

Though WhatsApp top executives have held two rounds of meeting with IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad since June, sources said they did not disclose the Pegasus hacking incident. According to the IT Act, the companies have to report any cyber incident to the government, said the official.

The official, suspecting that the messaging platform must have plans to prevent the government from bringing measures on traceability and accountability.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp has over 1.5 billion users globally, of which India alone accounts for about 400 million.

Ever since the mob lynching incidents, the government has insisted that social media platforms disclose the traceability of messages. However, the companies refused do so saying the messages are encrypted and citing issues of privacy.

On Thursday, WhatsApp had said Indian journalists and human rights activists were among those globally spied upon by unnamed entities using an Israeli spyware Pegasus, leading to uproar over breach of citizens' privacy. The IT Ministry also sought an explanation from WhatsApp about the incident.

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