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WhatsApp warns of potential shutdown in India over privacy concerns

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Meta’s WhatsApp has issued a warning, stating that it may cease operations in India due to new regulations that could compromise user privacy. During a hearing at the Delhi High Court, WhatsApp declared its intention to shut down in India if compelled to break message encryption. The platform’s lawyer argued that compromising encryption would jeopardize user privacy and ultimately lead to its closure.

WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption is a cornerstone of its service, ensuring that only the sender and recipient can access message content. However, India’s Information Technology Rules 2021, which mandate tracing chats and identifying message originators, pose a direct challenge to this encryption.

Meta, WhatsApp’s parent company, has contested these rules, arguing that they would weaken encryption and violate user privacy protections enshrined in the Indian Constitution. The company’s lawyer highlighted the absence of similar requirements in other countries and the logistical challenges of storing millions of messages for extended periods.

In response, the Indian government defended the rules, emphasizing the importance of tracing message originators to combat misinformation and unlawful activities. The court acknowledged the need to balance privacy rights with the imperative of tracing message originators.

With India being WhatsApp’s largest market, boasting over 400 million users, the potential shutdown raises significant concerns about user privacy and access to encrypted communication. The outcome of the legal battle between WhatsApp and the Indian government will have far-reaching implications for digital rights in the country.

Both parties are steadfastly advocating for their positions, with WhatsApp stressing the criticality of encryption and the government underscoring the necessity of message tracing. The hearing on the petitions challenging the rules is scheduled for August 14, promising to be a pivotal moment in the ongoing debate over user privacy and digital regulation in India.

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