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India: Supreme Court Hears Case to Ban WhatsApp for ‘Aiding Terrorists’

This Wednesday, India’s Supreme Court will hear a public interest litigation (PIL) petition seeking a ban on WhatsApp in the subcontinent on the grounds that the messaging platform’s end-to-end encryption could provide terrorists with access to one another through the app, which is impossible to intercept.

According to the Times of India, Sudhir Yadav, 27, a right-to-information (RTI) activist from the Indian city of Gurgaon, filed the petition. Yadav filed the petition shortly after WhatsApp encrypted all messaging on its platform in April.

Technological reporting site Track.in reports that, prior to filing the petition, Yadav had requested information on the app’s encryption rules under India’s RTI laws. However, he reportedly received “No such Information exist in this office” in response and his concerns heightened over the possibility that terrorists targeting his nation would be able to carry out their acts unhindered. It was then that he decided to proceed to the Supreme Court, seeking a ban on WhatsApp.

In his petition, Yadav wrote that it would take:

115,792,089,237,316,195,423,570,985,008,687,907,853,269,984,665,640,564,039,457,584,007,913,129,639,935 possible combinations of keys to decrypt the (WhatsApp) message and to read it, which means that even if anyone have [sic] A hundred thousand super computers and each of those super computer can try a million billion keys every second, even then it will take trillions of trillions of trillions of years to decrypt a single message/document/call/video/image and then read it.

Decrypting a single 256-bit encrypted message would reportedly take hundreds of years.

Further, Yadav pointed out that WhatsApp’s encryption policy is breaking laws related to the Indian Constitution, namely:

Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, which grants the Government the power to order the interception of messages;

Rule 419A of the Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951, which lays down the procedural requirements which must be followed for telephone tapping to be legal;

Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, which deals with the power to issue directions for interception or monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource;

Information Technology (Directions for Interception or Monitoring or Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009.

Other messaging platforms included in the petition calling for a ban include Telegram, Hike, Viber, and Secure Chat.

In an interview with MediaNama, Yadav said he is not against encryption. Instead, he said he wants WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, to provide the Indian government with a special key that they can use to decrypt the platform should they need to. Facebook and Facebook Messenger reportedly have this private key which intelligence agencies are granted access to in situations where a nation’s national security is at risk.

Southeast Asians rely heavily on the apps above to communicate with family and friends. As such, news of Yadav’s petition was met with mixed reactions:

Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz.

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