Govt wants to remove privacy from WhatsApp
Indian Telecom Bill, 2022
Govt is making a new law that will remove all privacy from WhatsApp. They’ll be able to read all our messages! Let's see how👇👇
Till now, all telecom stuff in India was according to a law made in 1885 called Indian Telegraph Act. As you can imagine, this law was written for telegraphs. So it was good for regulating crimes which happened through telegraphs. But in this modern world of social media and fake news, it fell short. Govt was frustrated and tired of using law written in 1885 to catch 21st century criminals. Maybe in 1885 criminals spread fake news through telegraph. But nowadays, criminals use WhatsApp.
So govt thought, we should keep up with the criminals. Let’s make a new law.
This was a good idea. Updating laws regularly is important.
But the bad part started when govt sat down to write the new law:
ok let’s remember, who troubles us the most in the telecom area?
vodafone. idea. whatsapp.
time for revenge. let’s write the new law specifically for these fukkers.
So the new law, Indian Telecom Bill 2022, is focused on 2 areas- simcard companies(like vodafone) and social media companies(like whatsapp).
In this post, I’ll ignore the part about simcard companies because it is boring and talk about the social media part because it is scary.
So here’s the problem: there’s a lot of fake news on WhatsApp.
For example, this nice piece of fake news where UNESCO declared India’s national anthem as the best anthem.
Covid-related fake news is another example. In March 2020 when covid hit the world, WhatsApp groups quickly became the epicenter of covid-related fake news. Made up side-effects and cures were shared millions of times on WhatsApp.
Obviously, govt doesn’t like this. It wants to stop fake news on WhatsApp. Sure, fake news is not limited to WhatsApp. Facebook, Twitter, etc: all these social media websites have rampant fake news. But if govt notices fake news on Facebook/Twitter, they can ask the company to take down the fake news post or ban the accounts spreading fake news. But when govt notices fake news on WhatsApp and asks the company to remove it or ban the accounts, WhatsApp is like, sorry we can’t help you.
Not that WhatsApp doesn’t want to help the govt. Or they like spreading fake news.
Its just that WhatsApp cannot remove fake news. Like, they are physically incapable of doing so. Why?
Because WhatsApp uses a technology called end-to-end encryption(E2EE). Back in 2014, WhatsApp decided to privacy more seriously. So they partnered with a company called Signal and put Signal’s privacy technology(called Signal Protocol) on WhatsApp. By 2016, WhatsApp was fully end-to-end encrypted. How it works:
I type a message to you on my phone and hit send
Before the message leaves my phone, WhatsApp will lock the message using a password. This is called encryption.
The encrypted message will go to WhatsApp servers and from there it will go to your phone.
On your phone, WhatsApp will open the lock on the message by using the password. This is called decryption.
The password for encrypting and decrypting the message is only in the hands of you and me(sender and receiver). WhatsApp doesn’t have it. Plus, this password changes every time we send a new message. That’s why WhatsApp is so secure. That’s why Electronic Frontier Foundation and Signal co-founder Moxie Marlinspike have recommended WhatsApp for privacy. On WhatsApp servers, the messages are present in encrypted format. So WhatsApp cannot read our messages.
That’s why WhatsApp cannot help the govt to stop fake news: it is physically incapable of doing so. Even if govt burst down the doors and opened up the servers, they would only find encrypted messages. Without the password, pretty useless.
Now, when I wrote this in a LinkedIn post, many people pointed out that, according to WhatsApp FAQs, the company will share data with govt if govt asks for it. But this data doesn’t include your chats. Here’s why:
you commit a crime, govt knows you did it. they need proof.
they think that you might have shared your criminal plan with friends on WhatsApp
so they go to whatsapp and tell the company to share all your data
whatsapp says, sure we will cooperate fully. they will immediately send all your data
this data contains: your dp, about , list of contacts.
govt says, why are you sharing this useless stuff with us? we already have his pic. we just need his messages.
whatsapp says sorry, we don’t have the messages. as soon the message is delivered, it is deleted from whatsapp servers. plus, it would be encrypted anyways, so no use.
As you can imagine, govt doesn’t like this. So they tried to bring laws to force WhatsApp.
Last year, they brought a law called IT Rules 2021. This would allow govt to overcome the encryption of any social media and messaging platform to check any user’s details and data in the name of national security. There were 2 ideas on how govt could track messages while keeping encryption intact:
Double Encryption: Right now, WhatsApp only encrypts the message. In this idea, they could encrypt the phone number along with the message. So if govt wants to know who sent a message, they can find the phone number attached along with it.
Hashing: WhatsApp will keep a unique ID for every message sent and when govt wants to find out who sent a message, WhatsApp will use its unique ID to find the sender.
WhatsApp hates both these ideas. They said both these ideas would violate user privacy. In the end, the law didn’t pass, it is under an endless re-evaluation phase.
Now, the govt has brought a new law. In it, they have written that:
if govt decides that they need to read a person’s whatsapp messages for civil/criminal case, then whatsapp has to give it to them.
Notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force, where the Central Government, a State Government or a Government of a Union Territory is satisfied that any information, document or record in possession or control of any availed of by any entity or consumer or subscriber is necessary to be furnished in relation to any pending or apprehended civil or criminal proceedings, an officer, specially authorized in writing by such Government in this behalf, shall direct such licensee, registered entity or assignee to furnish such information, document or record to him and the licensee, registered entity or assignee shall comply with the direction of such officer.
whatsapp needs to do KYC for all its users.
The identity of a person sending a message using telecommunication services shall be available to the user receiving such message, in such form as may be prescribed, unless specified otherwise by the Central Government.
From the govt’s POV, these laws are necessary.
There’s a lot of fake news and criminal activity happening on WhatsApp. Govt needs to read messages and know who sent it, so that they can catch criminals.
But from our POV, these laws are scary.
Govt can read all our messages? Govt knows that I sent political memes? Scary!
But from WhatsApp’s POV, these laws are a disaster:
India is WhatsApp’s biggest market. It has to stay here. So it needs to obey govt and give up privacy.
But then WhatsApp will lose trust worldwide. So it cannot give up privacy. It will have to leave India.
This is a deadlock. WhatsApp is fukked on both sides.
How can WhatsApp solve this problem? The answer is pretty boring: lobbying.
This is not the first time govt has tried to regulate a company. It happens all the time.
So companies use corporate lobbying to escape the regulation.
Like for example, Uber was facing a lot of backlash from taxi unions in 2016, so spent $90 million to lobby govt officers and politicians to their side. Facebook spent 5 million on corporate lobbying last quarter to make an antitrust lawsuit by FTC go away. Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook spent $30 million on corporate lobbying to soften EU’s DMA law. As you can see, these companies use lobbying to either escape govt rules or soften the impact.
Most probably, WhatsApp will be doing the same. Let’s see if they succeed or not.
This wraps up today’s newsletter. Thanks to Prithvi for helping me out with this newsletter.
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Nicely explained ✨