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WhatsApp needs to have local entity answerable to Indian laws: Govt

Meity’s RS Prasad tweets WhatsApp CEO assured him on corrective measures

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NEW DELHI: The Indian government’s unambiguous and non-encrypted message to WhatsApp: set up a local entity in the country that is answerable to local laws, and find a tech solution to trace the origin of fake messages and content on the platform.

"I had a productive meeting with Chris Daniels, the CEO of WhatsApp. I complimented him for the awakening, which WhatsApp has led in the entire country... But there are also sinister developments like mob lynching and revenge porn, you must find solutions to these challenges, which are downright criminal and [in] violation of Indian laws," Minister of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) Ravi Shankar Prasad was quoted by PTI as having said after meeting WhatsApp head Chris Daniels yesterday.

While admitting that the Facebook-owned messaging app has contributed significantly to India's digital story, Prasad said he has asked WhatsApp to set up a corporate entity in India, appoint a grievance officer and find a technical solution to tracing the origin of fake messages on its platform.

“I requested CEO WhatsApp Chris Daniels to set up a grievance officer in India; establish a corporate entity in India & comply with Indian laws. He assured me that #Whatsapp will soon take steps on all these counts,” Prasad said in a tweet.

Later talking to reporters in the capital, the minister added: "I had said earlier also; it does not take rocket science to locate a message being circulated in hundreds and thousands…you must have a mechanism to find a solution."

According to Prasad, Whatsapp could face abetment charges if no action is taken by it. The messaging platform has taken some corrective steps in the recent past like limiting the number of forwards that an individual can make in India.

In recent times, WhatsApp has been facing the heat as it had been accused of being the platform via which hateful messages and rumours were spread in India leading to violence and crimes. The issue, which some critics said was akin to shooting the messenger instead of upholding the law of the land, has also reverberated in the Indian parliament with lawmakers trying to put the government on the mat for WhatsApp-spread rumours-linked deaths and crimes.

While Prasad is on record saying he’s in favour of gradually evolving a policy for regulating the likes of WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, his ministry’s nudge has made the Department of Telecoms circulate a missive to telecom players and industry bodies seeking suggestions on ways to block services that ride the telecom infrastructure. The proposal has been criticized by many, including a chamber of commerce, Assocham.

Telecoms regulator TRAI is also exploring regulations for OTT services like WhatsApp.

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