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Governments around the world are growing more uncomfortable with encrypted communications, and the popular encrypted messaging service WhatsApp is becoming a big target. Earlier in the year, we reported that an executive was imprisoned by a judge’s order, because WhatsApp did not turn over encrypted messages it doesn’t actually have access to. Now authorities in the Kupawara district of India have issued an order requiring all creators of WhatsApp groups in the district to register with the government, in order to prevent rumor-mongering.

Authorities in the district are hoping to defuse tensions which were sparked by the alleged sexual assault of a teenager by army personnel. Violent clashes between demonstrators and police have already resulted to the death of five protestors. A curfew has been imposed on the region to prevent further violence. Internet access in the region was also cut off, but the Internet blackout has now been lifted.

Unlike the case in Brazil, this order at least seems to comprehend the nature of encryption and the fact that WhatsApp itself can’t turn over any communications. Instead this order forces group admins to register with the government and take responsibility for any “irresponsible remarks” that are reported to have occurred in the group. However, even if it isn’t a technological issue, like decrypting messages, this plan still has some hurdles to overcome. There may be some difficulties enforcing this order, and its not entirely clear how the government will ensure that group admins actually comply with the order.

The order states that government officials will be monitoring the groups and will, “furnish the list of individuals involved in provoking the youths of the districts for creating law and order problems with evidence and action taken therein.” The government also seems interested in keeping its own employees under control. The order states that government employees should not comment on government policy in WhatsApp groups, and those who do so will punished. 

Although not explicitly stated in the order, a spokesperson for the district stated that WhatsApp groups may be required to add at least one government official as a member of the group. The spokesperson stated, “If any government admin is present in a WhatsApp group, it will immediately prevent any sort of rumor-mongering.” The spokesperson also clarified that the registration process the admins go through will require filling in a form with the names, phone numbers and home addresses of all members of the group.

Is this an overreach of government authority or a necessary measure to maintain order? Leave your comments below.

Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.