Exclusive: Meta policy chief Nick Clegg gets WhatsApp traceability ultimatum from India – Moneycontrol

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During a visit to India last month, Meta policy chief Nick Clegg was told that the government would enforce traceability for law enforcement and security purposes on WhatsApp one way or another, even if the courts struck down a legal provision on detecting the first originator of messages, according to people aware of the development.
Sources said that a senior official told Clegg that the big tech firm can make suggestions on the language of the traceability provision that it can live with.
“The government said Meta can come back with language on traceability provision that the company can live with. But, it has to be done quickly as they mentioned that the draft Digital India Act could be out before Christmas,” said a person who is privy to the development.
“Clegg was told in no uncertain terms that Meta can go and file any number of cases in the courts, but the government will find one way or another to press the obligation of traceability,” he added.
When WhatsApp and Meta (formerly Facebook) had mounted a legal challenge to the traceability provision in the IT Rules Amendments last year, one of the social media giant’s arguments was that the government can’t enforce such a law via notifying changes to Rules.
Experts consider Rules to be subordinate legislation as they can be directly notified by the government without passing a new law through the Parliament. While the Rules can still be debated in the Parliament, they do not require voting by legislators unlike Acts.
In another meeting with a second top-ranking official, Clegg was told that the traceability provision was important to handle law enforcement such as terrorism cases.
“The official said it would not be possible for the government track down a terrorist handler who was sitting in Pakistan, and sending messages to an operative in India. Subsequently, Meta representatives explained that traceability won’t help much in such a situation — if a person takes a screenshot of a message and sends that to someone, you can’t figure out the first originator anyway.” said a person in the know.
The issue of traceability still remains at an impasse after Nick Clegg’s high powered visit to India where he met multiple ministers and officials. Meta is wary of the traceability provision as it would mean breaking the end-to-end encryption of WhatsApp messages which is a central feature of the platform.
In one of Clegg’s meetings with senior government officials, the formation of a multi-party technical group on traceability came up. The committee could have representatives from MeitY, law enforcement agencies, Meta and IIT professors to discuss and debate about the challenges of allowing traceability of messages on the platform without breaking the end-to-end encryption.
Moneycontrol has sent a list of queries to MeitY on meetings with Clegg and this article will be updated on the receipt of any responses from them.

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