High Court (India)

June 07, 2019

Cybercrime PIL: WhatsApp Tells Madras High Court That It Cannot Track Users Due The App’s End-To-End Encryption

[ By Bobby Anthony ]


It is impossible to track down the original sender of a WhatsApp message, including forwarded messages, because of the application’s end-to-end encryption, the company’s lawyers told the Madras High Court.

The submission was made responding to the court’s queries whether it would be possible to trace the original senders of false messages amidst its concerns about the spread of such messages through WhatsApp forwards, for the perpetration of cybercrimes.

The court had taken up the issue responding to a public interest litigation (PIL) which had begun with a plea to link Aadhaar with e-mail IDs to curb crimes committed online. The plea for Aadhaar-linkage was declined last year, but the case was kept pending to look into measures in place to counter such crime.

Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp were impleaded as parties after the state informed the court of difficulties in accessing online user data due to non-cooperation of such intermediaries while investigating cybercrimes.

The court had directed a meeting to be conducted between the state government and social media companies to discuss ways in which they could co-operate to tackle cybercrime.

While arguing for the state of Tamil Nadu, Advocate General Vijay Narayan had highlighted certain provisions of the Draft Information Technology [Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules] 2018 which cast an obligation on intermediaries to assist government agencies within 72 hours in the investigation of cybercrime. These rules also require intermediaries to trace the originator of prohibited content on the online platform.

The hearing also witnessed brief submissions made on behalf of Twitter and Google which contended that all intermediaries cannot be viewed uniformly since Twitter’s content is not encrypted. The originator of a tweet is plainly visible, as is every user who re-tweets or otherwise interacts with it and it was argued that any policy discussion for regulations of intermediaries ought to take place on different levels.

Unlike WhatsApp, it was contended that Google as well as YouTube does not encrypt data and that Google has a grievance officer for India to address any concerns.

The case will be taken up for its next hearing on June 27.

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