New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday sought the response of WhatsApp and the government on a plea alleging that the social media giant has not complied with the provision of appointing a grievance officer and other laws of India.

This comes at a time when the Facebook-owned messaging service and the government are at loggerheads over compliance with Indian laws and the mechanism to ensure traceability of fake messages.

A bench of Justices R.F. Nariman and Indu Malhotra sought a response from WhatsApp, the law and justice ministry, finance ministry and information technology (IT) ministry within four weeks. The apex court was hearing a plea filed by the Centre for Accountability and Systemic Change seeking to restrain the social media giant from proceeding with its payment systems unless it fully complies with provisions of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

Companies such as Facebook and Google have appointed grievance officers for users in India, while WhatsApp had not, the petition contended.

WhatsApp must be directed to comply with Indian laws and appoint an officer who shall address grievances of the consumers and coordinate with investigating agencies, to make it accountable, the petition added.

The petition contended that WhatsApp is a foreign company with no office or servers in India and to run payments service here it is obligated to have its office and payments in India.

Over the last few weeks, the government has been reiterating that WhatsApp has to comply with Indian laws to carry on its operations in India and to launch new services such as WhatsApp Payments.

Last week, IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad urged WhatsApp chief executive officer Chris Daniels to devise ways to trace the origin of fake messages, set up a local corporate entity and appoint a grievance officer to address complaints to curb the spread of deadly rumours.

In response to the government’s demand, WhatsApp said that building traceability would undermine end-to-end encryption and the private nature of WhatsApp, creating the potential for serious misuse. “WhatsApp will not weaken the privacy protections we provide," said a WhatsApp spokesperson.

According to a senior IT ministry official, the government wants WhatsApp to establish a grievance cell, and an Indian corporate entity, which will be subject to Indian laws, within a defined time frame.

Last month, the IT ministry raised concerns about the rollout of WhatsApp Payments in India and sought clarity on whether the new UPI-based service conforms to RBI’s security and privacy rules. Prasad had also asked WhatsApp to comply with RBI’s norms during his meeting with Daniels last week.

Queries sent to WhatsApp remained unanswered till press time.

Close