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Tracing chats to first originator will break encryption, user privacy: WhatsApp

The logo for WhatsApp messaging app arranged on a smartphone (Representative image: Bloomberg)Premium
The logo for WhatsApp messaging app arranged on a smartphone (Representative image: Bloomberg)

  • Fingerprinting is a method that is known to be successful for tracing messages. However, security experts have warned that there’s no way to do this for just the offending users, and platforms will have to implement it for everyone, thereby breaking the fundamental norms of end-to-end encryption

NEW DELHI: Instant messaging giant, WhatsApp, has said that trying to trace chats to their first originator would require the platform to break end-to-end encryption for everyone. The company, which reportedly sued the Indian government on Tuesday seeking to block the new Intermediary Rules from going into effect, said it still hopes to continue working with the government to find “practical solutions" for keeping people safe.

“Requiring messaging apps to “trace" chats is the equivalent of asking us to keep a fingerprint of every single message sent on WhatsApp, which would break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermines people’s right to privacy. We have consistently joined civil society and experts around the world in opposing requirements that would violate the privacy of our users. In the meantime, we will also continue to engage with the Government of India on practical solutions aimed at keeping people safe, including responding to valid legal requests for the information available to us," a WhatsApp spokesperson said.

The concept of fingerprinting messages has been backed as the only real means to trace the first originator of messages on encrypted chat platforms like WhatsApp. In fact, experts have said that Signal, another encrypted chat app, will likely have to shut down operations in India if it is forced to do this. The app was founded by WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton, who has since left the Facebook-owned company, and is said to access the least amount of user data possible.

As reported by Mint on February 28, fingerprinting is a method that is known to be successful for tracing messages on such platforms. However, security experts have warned that there’s no way to do this for just the offending users, and platforms will have to implement it for everyone, thereby breaking the fundamental norms of end-to-end encryption (E2EE). E2EE protects user privacy by ensuring that only the sender and receiver of a text can read it. No one, including the platform in question, can read the texts otherwise.

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