The Union government on Wednesday said that WhatsApp's "last minute challenge" to the new social media and intermediary guidelines, all clauses of which came into effect on May 25, is a "clear act of defiance" and an "unfortunate attempt to keep the guidelines from coming into effect".
The statement was issued hours after the messaging services company moved the Delhi High Court against the new Information Technology Act rules, among which is a requirement for companies such as WhatsApp to be able to trace the originator of a message -- a feature the company said is not possible without breaking end-to-end encryption, which will in turn jeopardise the fundamental right to privacy of Indians.
"WhatsApp's challenge, at the very last moment, and despite having sufficient time and opportunity available during consultation process and after the rules were enacted, to the Intermediary Guidelines is an unfortunate attempt to prevent the same from coming into effect," the ministry said in a statement.
"Any operations being run in India are subject to the law of the land. WhatsApp's refusal to comply with the guidelines is a clear act of defiance of a measure whose intent can certainly not be doubted," it added.
A ministry official familiar with the matter said that the sections wherein the government is likely to seek information are clearly defined in the new guidelines. "It is only in cases where serious crime has taken place, or are in the interest of national security, that such information will be sought and that too with the approval of the home secretary," the official said.
The government also stated that while it respects the right to privacy, no Fundamental Right, including the Right to Privacy, is absolute.
The government in its statement said that an order to trace first originator, under rule 4(2) of the guidelines, shall be passed "only for the purposes of prevention, investigation, punishment etc. of inter alia an offence relating to sovereignty, integrity and security of India, public order incitement to an offence relating to rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for not less than five years".
It highlighted how WhatsApp messages have been circulated when it came to cases of mob lynchings. "It is in public interest that who started the mischief leading to such crime must be detected and punished. We cannot deny as to how cases of mob lynching and riots etc. repeated WhatsApp messages are circulated and recirculated whose content are already in public domain. Hence the role of who originated is very important," the statement said.