Interception of WhatsApp calls on House panel radar

Updated on Jul 28, 2022 05:37 AM IST

The panel also sought to know if the government plans to bring such (social media) platforms under the Telegraph Act. It further sought details of messages that may have been intercepted under the Act.

WhatsApp has moved Delhi high court, seeking scrapping of the traceability provision since it is “unconstitutional” and “illegal” and constitutes a “dangerous invasion of privacy”. (Reuters)
WhatsApp has moved Delhi high court, seeking scrapping of the traceability provision since it is “unconstitutional” and “illegal” and constitutes a “dangerous invasion of privacy”. (Reuters)
ByDeeksha Bhardwaj, New Delhi

Whether calls made via WhatsApp, which are supposed to be end-to-end encrypted, can be intercepted and covered under the Telegraph Act was among points of discussion of the Parliamentary panel on information technology during a meeting with officials from the communications ministry on Wednesday, people familiar with the matter said.

The Telegraph Act allows the government to legally intercept information.

The panel, led by Congress lawmaker Shashi Tharoor, also raised questions regarding the Telegraph Act and its provisions dealing with issues related to social media, and the alleged use of Israeli spyware Pegasus by the government to spy on prominent individuals, the people cited above said.

“The government has not provided any response so far and said it will respond later,” one such person mentioned above said on condition of anonymity.

The panel also sought to know if the government plans to bring such (social media) platforms under the Telegraph Act. It further sought details of messages that may have been intercepted under the Act.

The government, however, said it does not maintain a record of such interceptions (of messages) and does not have any data available in this regard, a second person said.

The ministry of home affairs last year had informed Parliament that lawful interception and monitoring is carried out by law enforcement agencies only after obtaining approval of the competent authority under provisions of section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 read with Rule 419A of Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Rules, 2014, and Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 read with the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009.

The new information technology rules, which were notified last year, however, mandate that social media companies such as WhatsApp share details of the first originator of a message, a provision that has been challenged by the Meta-owned social media firm.

WhatsApp has even moved Delhi high court, seeking scrapping of the traceability provision since it is “unconstitutional” and “illegal” and constitutes a “dangerous invasion of privacy”.

It has also sought that no criminal liability is imposed for any non-compliance with the rules.

The messaging platform has also told the court that the requirement to adopt features such as traceability for identifying originators of messages violated the right to privacy under the Indian law and the company’s end-to-end encryption policy.

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