The ministry of electronics and IT on Wednesday strongly rebutted WhatsApp’s contention that Rule 4(2) of the new intermediary guidelines is “unconstitutional”, “illegal”, and “ultra vires the IT Act”. It categorically said that the government has no intention to violate the right to privacy of users in instances when WhatsApp would be required to disclose the origin of a particular message.
In a statement, Meity said that the requirement for traceability would only be in extreme cases like prevention, investigation or punishment of very serious offences related to the sovereignty and integrity of the country and in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse.
The statement said that while the government recognises and respects the right to privacy as a fundamental right of the citizens, there are reasonable restrictions on such rights and the traceability issue is one such reasonable restriction as it is also the government’s duty to maintain law and order in the country.
Communications and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “None of the measures proposed by India will impact the normal functioning of WhatsApp in any manner whatsoever and for the common users, there will be no impact.”
The statement said that after October 2018, no specific objection has been made by WhatsApp in writing relating to the requirement to trace the first originator in relation to serious offences. “They have generally sought time to extend the time for enforcement of guidelines but did not make any formal reference that traceability is not possible,” the statement said.
It said that the Rule 4(2) of the intermediary guidelines is not a measure in isolation. The rules have been framed after consultation with various stakeholders and social media intermediaries, including but not limited to WhatsApp. The rule to trace the first originator of information is mandatory for each and every significant social media intermediary, irrespective of their method of operation.
The government said rules enacted by it are not in isolation but have global precedence.