From gossiping to making movie plans to doing business, a big part of the world now operates via WhatsApp and yet there was a plea made to the Supreme Court to ban it. Yes, you heard it right. Hearing it for the first time sounds nonsensical. Even comic. How can you ban WhatsApp, what harm does it do.

On delving deeper, however, there is merit in the plea. WhatsApp has recently started end-to-end encryption, in order to prevent hackers and cybercriminals from accessing users’ data. This also means that apart from the sender and receiver, no one can ever access the data. Not WhatsApp, not even the government. Not even in cases of security emergencies, putting the nation at threat. People against the state can use the channel to implement malevolent plans.

The petition has been rejected by the Supreme Court for now. However, even if WhatsApp did build the power to decrypt, the big question remains. Should the state have the right to access the private data of suspicious wrongdoers?

If you think the answer is an overwhelming yes, recall the dispute between Apple and the FBI. The FBI asked Apple to unlock a shooter’s phone and Apple declined, stating that customer privacy is supreme. Apple said that if the FBI could access one user’s phone, they could access anyone’s phone. Considering the possibility that the government machinery might misuse the data, Apple’s stance held strong.

Technology companies need to give users privacy, while on the other hand, complete privacy is a potential threat to the state. The solution is selectively decrypting data of certain users. Then, however, who decides whose data should be accessible? If it is the state’s decision, how do we know that the data will not leak and that it is used justly? Also, is selective privacy any privacy at all?

Disputes between technology companies and state well wishers is just beginning. How ironical it is to note that both wish to provide safety and security to the users and yet they stand opposed.

Originally published for the Dainik Bhaskar group on July 5, 2016.

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