RTI activist moves SC for ban on WhatsApp in India
ON MAY 03, 2016
What many people around the globe termed as another great innovative update to WhatsApp by Facebook, did not seem to go down so well with RTI activist Sudhir Yadav. Sudhir Yadav, an RTI Activist from Gurgaon has filed a petition in Supreme Court of India, seeking a complete ban on Whatsapp. The petitioned was filed on the basis of the end-to-end encryption feature that WhatsApp recently launched across all platforms for its users.
According to sources, the man had requested the RTI office to know more about WhatsApp’s encryption policies. Once he was told that such information was not available with the RTI office, he decided to take matter into his own hands and decided to file a petition in the Supreme Court.
As per the RTI Request Registration number DOTEL/R/2016/50413, a copy of which is with us, Sudhir asked, “Kindly Provide me copy of the written permission given to WhatsApp Mobile messaging app for using the 256-bit key length encryption (or more than 40 bit key lengths) in chatting application.”
In return, he received a reply: “No such Information exist in this office.”
Why is he filing such a bizarre petition?
It will not sound so bizarre if you read what happened with Apple and the FBI regarding the terrorists phone in the USA. What was the issue then? Something that Sudhir fears can happen in India too. According to him, “they have decided to encrypt all messages exchanged on their platform; and in case any terrorist is chatting through Whatsapp and making plans to harm India, then Indian Police/Intelligence wont be able to read those messages, and take suitable action.”
In his petition, he has the following to say – “.. there are 115,792,089,237 ,316,195,423,570, 985,008,687,907 ,853,269,984,665 ,640,564,039,457 ,584, 007,913,129 ,639,935 possible combinations of keys to decrypt the (Whatsapp) message and to read it, which means that even if anyone have A hundred thousand super computers and each of those super computer can try a million billion keys every second, even then it will take trillions of trillions of trillions of years to decrypt a single message/document/call/video/image and then read it.”
Besides Whatsapp, the petitioner has also mentioned other messengers such as Hike, Secure Chat, LeuPost, Wicker me, Viber, Telegram etc which are using encrypted messaging, and causing ‘national threat’.
Is WhatsApp really breaking the law?
According to him, the app has broken 4 laws related to the Constitution of India :
“Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, which grants the Government the power to order the interception of messages;”
“Rule 419A of the Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951, which lays down the procedural requirements which must be followed for telephone tapping to be legal;”
“Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, which deals with the power to issue directions for interception or monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource;”
“Information Technology (Directions for Interception or Monitoring or Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009.”
But how the SC reacts to this petition is to be seen.
While the series of events that took place in California between the FBI and Apple was a sad story for the US, it should not lead to what many have termed, “social paranoia”. Brazil, in attempt to curb privacy issues in their country, banned WhatsApp in their country for two whole days. These are extreme steps taken in a country where WhatsApp is the most used app and the second most used app is Facebook (father company for WhatsApp). Similarly in India, the app is used by more than half the country. If there is a flaw with the encryption policies, what should be done is to correct them. Not phase the whole app regardless of anything. The rest is upto the judiciary to decide.