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WhatsApp Threatens to Exit India Over Encryption Dispute

New Delhi: In an escalating legal battle with the Indian government, WhatsApp, owned by Meta, has issued a stark warning to the Delhi High Court, stating that it would cease operations in India if compelled to compromise its message encryption.

The declaration came during a hearing on WhatsApp’s challenge to a provision of the IT Rules, 2021, which mandates social media intermediaries to disclose the first originator of information to competent authorities or courts.

WhatsApp’s counsel, Tejas Karia, emphasized the platform’s commitment to user privacy and the integral role encryption plays in its service. “As a platform, we are saying if we are told to break encryption, then WhatsApp goes,” Karia stated during the hearing.

The tech giant argued that compromising encryption to trace users’ messages would not only undermine user privacy but also contravene fundamental rights enshrined in the Indian constitution, including Articles 14, 19, and 21.

Karia pointed out the impracticality of storing and decrypting millions of messages over an extended period, should the platform be compelled to comply with the regulations.

However, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) defended the guidelines, stressing the necessity of tracing message originators for security purposes. Counsel Kirtiman Singh highlighted WhatsApp’s previous encounters with similar issues before the US Congress.

The High Court acknowledged the complexity of the matter, noting that privacy rights are not absolute and advocating for a balance between privacy and security.

The next hearing on the case is scheduled for August 14, as the legal wrangle between WhatsApp and the Indian government continues amid ongoing efforts to regulate the internet.

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