New Delhi: 

Facebook is looking for ways to balance “individual privacy and national security”, said Mukul Rohatgi, who is representing the social media giant in the tussle over decrypting private messages of users. Facebook owns WhatsApp and the government contends that the end-to-end encryption it assures, has made the two social media platforms the preferred communication mode of terrorists and anti-nationals.  It also attributed the various incidents of mob killings to the spread of fake news on social media and wants to change IT rules to break end-to-end encryption.

After concerns over the spread of disinformation, WhatsApp said it was trying to find ways to prevent its misuse, but there was no question of diluting the end-to-end encryption.  

The matter has gone to the Supreme Court, which today said it will put together all the isolated cases on this throughout the country and hear it at the end of January.

Mr Rohtagi — who earlier today told the top court that local laws did not demand that the companies share data with government agencies — told NDTV: “We are not in confrontation with the government. We are looking for guidelines that balance individual privacy and national security.”

In court, Mr Rohatgi had also argued that the existing laws did not place the onus of facilitating a process of decrypting messages on the company. “The rules say if I have the key, I could give the key. But I don’t have the key myself,” he said, referring to Facebook or WhatsApp servers that are located outside of India.

Attorney General KK Venugopal, who was representing the government, told the Supreme Court that it was the responsibility of social media companies to share data wherever there was a threat to national security. “A terrorist cannot claim privacy,” Mr Venugopal said.

“For Facebook and WhatsApp to say they cannot decrypt is not acceptable,” Mr Venugopal added. “They can’t come into the country and say ‘we will establish a non-decryptable system,” he said.

After the issue set off a huge controversy, with the opposition terming the government  stance an attack on freedom of speech and raised concerns over privacy, the Centre said it was committed to both.

But the social media platforms were required to do due diligence and ensure they were not used to commit and provoke terrorism, extremism, violence and crime, it said in a statement last year.

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