Facebook still at odds with govt over WhatsApp monitoring

NEW DELHI: The government-Facebook dispute over traceability of messages in WhatsApp remained unresolved after Nick Clegg, the social media company’s vice president of global affairs and communications met senior ministers.

Clegg, who was UK’s deputy PM from 2010 to 2015, met home minister Amit Shah, national security adviser Ajit Doval, IT and communications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and commerce minister Piyush Goyal.

Clegg told ET that Facebook wanted to “provide solutions… not create problems” adding that “data localisation will create balkanisation of the internet… and make it unlikely that the next Facebooks and Googles will come from India”. On WhatsApp payment services, he said the company is “waiting for regulatory and central bank nod”.

“Instead of message content, Facebook could possibly help with metadata… that is, not the content but who messaged who, when and where and so on,” Clegg told ET.

In his meeting with Prasad, Clegg offered to track WhatsApp communication activities of persons deemed “dubious or suspicious” by government agencies, officials familiar with the discussions told ET on the condition of anonymity. However, Facebook doesn’t want to do this retrospectively. It will only do this for persons identified by the government from now on. Neither does the company want to break end-to-end encryption, which is at the core of the traceability issue.

Clegg said his discussions with Shah was centered around the question of “how even lisas we protect end-to-end encryption we want to continue to work with them in sharing different forms of signals in response to legal requests that can be helpful”. With Doval, discussions were along similar lines, he said.

Proposed intermediary guidelines make traceability mandatory for social media companies such as Facebook when content is deemed officially to have created law and order problems. The Supreme Court asked the government on Friday to provide information on the progress with guidelines.

“It will be a great shame if India sets a precedent (on data localisation) that will be copied by other countries,” Clegg told ET.