Legality of Move Questionable
Experts say the legality of such a directive is questionable, but even more worrisome is how the government plans to “look at” conversations among citizens on WhatsApp.
“This is impractical and will be very difficult to monitor and is short of a dystopic system that encourages citizens to spy on each other. Even if WhatsApp is shut down, other applications will take its place,” said Chinmayi Arun, ED, Centre for Communication Governance, National Law University, Delhi.
While the circulars do not clarify how the conversations will be monitored, the only feasible way to do it is if a district magistrate or a government official is added to every existing WhatsApp group. Besides, if an admin exits a group, WhatsApp randomly assigns admin status to any one of the group members, according to WhatsApp’s terms of service. “Ergo, merely your presence in a group can implicate you for content posted by others. This shows lack of understanding on how apps work or law applies to such situations,” added SFLC’s Choudhary.
However, rumour mongering is also a valid concern, especially in a volatile state like J&K. “Incitement to violence is a serious concern and WhatsApp needs to start engaging more with policy makers and others who work on human rights. Unlike the other major platforms that do discuss their policies and contemporary problems, WhatsApp seems to be less inclined to engage. I hope this will change,” added CCG’s Arun.