WhatsApp has found itself on the receiving end of Indian government's scrutiny since it introduced end-to-end encryption for all texts, voice calls and videos across all device platforms last week. The 256-bit encryption on WhatsApp, which allows only the recipient to view the files, messages and texts sent over the platform, has raised questions over the app's legality under the Indian telecom rules.
The Indian IT regulations do not permit telecom service providers and internet service providers to get a higher encryption standard above 40 bits without gaining special permission and depositing a decryption key with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). Since services like WhatsApp, Skype and Viber are not categorised under telecom service providers or internet service providers, there are no regulations on these Over-The-Top Services (OTTs) regarding encryption limitations.
TRAI is yet to disclose its regulations on the OTT Consultation Paper, which was released last year but debunked later. Until then, WhatsApp is not violating any rules with its end-to-end encryption and there is little or no chance that the app can be banned in India, according to the Indian Express.
By using end-to-end encryption, WhatsApp will not be able to comply with government requests for data, similar to the Apple case against the FBI. Apple was able to restrict data access on just iPhones, but WhatsApp makes it possible on a much larger scale. More than half of online Indian users are actively available on WhatsApp, research firm TNS had found last October.
In a blog titled end-to-end encryption, WhatsApp explained how users are actually protected on its platform. "When you send a message, the only person who can read it is the person or group chat that you send that message to," the company wrote. "No one can see inside that message. Not cybercriminals. Not hackers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us."
While end-to-end encryption on WhatsApp favours users in securely communicating with their friends and loved ones without any fear of the data being hacked or leaked, it also poses a threat. Tech First Post highlighted the possibility of people taking advantage of this high-level security for illegal activities, a major concern raised by the FBI in the recent Apple vs FBI conflict.