WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption feature is not essential, says Tamil Nadu lawyer

Tamil Nadu state lawyers believe WhatsApp must have some semblance of traceability for investigating crimes.

On the sidelines of Madras High Court's hearing on 21 August regarding linking Aadhaar to social media accounts, Tamil Nadu advocate general says that end-to-end encryption is not essential to the platform.

“End-to-end encryption was introduced to WhatsApp later. Therefore, it is not essential to the platform. It was a business decision. It is a question of business policy versus law,” E Manoharan, the Additional Government Pleader for the State of Tamil Nadu told Medianama.

Reportedly, state lawyers in Tamil Nadu believe that Aadhaar may not be linked to social media accounts but there should be some semblance of traceability on the platform for investigating crimes. The lawyers suggest that the control of these traceability tools will remain with the platform itself.

WhatsApp. Image: Reuters

WhatsApp. Image: Reuters

This suggestion comes amid the Indian government's push for WhatsApp to create tools to trace the origin of messages, while the platform has denied the ability to do so due to its end-to-end encryption feature. However, per the Tamil Nadu government and social media platforms continue to argue whether or not traceability is technologically possible on end-to-end encrypted platforms, and more importantly, if it should be made possible.

(Also read: Aadhaar-social media account linking could result in creation of a surveillance state, deprive fundamental right to privacy)

Earlier this month, V Kamakoti, an IIT Madras professor submitted a report at the Madras High Court saying that the platform can, in fact, trace the origin of a message. He said that WhatsApp can trace the origin of a message by embedding the first sender's information alongside content. This information would be visible to everyone.

Kamakoti also suggested that WhatsApp may encrypt the sender's information in the message, which can be accessed by the officials when needed.

WhatsApp currently does not store data on messages. However, if it accedes to India’s demand, it will need to redesign its entire architecture. Such a move could result in a backlash from privacy activists around the world who are worried that traceability will gag free speech on the internet, as governments could use the power to snoop on citizens.

WhatsApp has repeatedly been stressing that the importance of the company’s support for encryption and how important it is for the product. A few months ago, the Indian government also asked WhatsApp to digitally fingerprint every message sent on its platform without breaking its encryption.

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