The Stack Archive

Indian Supreme Court dismisses WhatsApp ban

Wed 29 Jun 2016

The Supreme Court of India has denied a petition which sought to ban secure messaging platform WhatsApp on the basis that it poses a threat to national security. The Court has requested the petitioner approach the government’s telecommunication disputes arbitrator for further resolution, thereby placing the issue with the government’s executive rather than judicial branch.

The petition said that WhatsApp violates the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 and the Information Technology Act of 2000. In a recent update, the company introduced end-to-end 256-bit encryption for its users. The problem, according to the petition, is that the end-to-end encryption poses a security risk for the country. Messages are impossible to decrypt, as neither WhatsApp nor parent company Facebook maintains decryption keys for messages on its platform.

The petitioner, RTI activist Sudhir Yadav, also named secure messaging platforms Viber, Hike and Secure as violating key provisions of Indian technology law by providing secure services.  “Even if WhatsApp was asked to break through an individual’s message to hand over the data to the government, it too would fail as it does not have the decryption keys either,” Yadav said in his petition.

He went on to say that terrorists and criminals can easily communicate on these messaging systems, and that any plans they make would be impossible to access as 256-bit encryptions cannot be broken in a reasonable amount of time, even by supercomputers.

In response to today’s ruling, Yadav said that he will continue to seek a ban on secure messaging apps. Next, he will attempt to seek resolution through India’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, although he has attempted to have his issues addressed through the Ministry twice before, without a response.

If he fails to receive a response for a third time, Yadav will return to the legal system with a petition to India’s High Court, one level below the Supreme Court.

While Yadav is not opposed to encryption – even the now-standard 256-bit encryption – he believes that the government should have access to a decryption key when necessary.

India isn’t the only country dealing with concerns over WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption. Brazil suspended the app in December 2015, and again in May of 2016, each time affecting over 100 million users. These bans were intended to put pressure on the company to assist the government in criminal investigations. Each time the app was reinstated in response to appeals filed by Facebook with the Brazilian courts.

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