Offensive WhatsApp messages: No plan to block users, police the right authority, says DoT

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Updated: February 26, 2019 7:21:17 AM

The DoT says law enforcement agencies are the right authorities to deal with the matter. It is going to take action against the officer who asked the telcos to take immediate action in a February 19 letter

The department will continue to work with licensed operators to extend all support and cooperation to law enforcement agencies to curb any harassment of citizens arising due to obscene messages.

The department of telecommunications (DoT) has said it has no plans to ask mobile operators to block customers who are allegedly sending obscene messages through WhatsApp as law enforcement agencies like police are the right authority to deal with the problem.

The DoT said this after FE reported last week that the government is going to take action against senders of violent or vulgar messages by asking mobile operators to block such users. This was based on a DoT letter dated February 19 to telecom service providers by Ashish Joshi, controller communications, in a subordinate office of the department. The letter asked the telcos to take immediate action against those customers against whom complaints of sending obscene messages had been received along with a screenshots as it violated the customer declaration in the customer application form (CAF).

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However, DoT officials said that the officer had no authority to issue the letter and action is likely to be taken against him soon. “There is a clause in the licence agreement which prohibits transmission of obscene messages but the onus of identifying such messages is on enforcement agencies,” the DoT official told FE. The official further stated that security conditions of licence insists on secure transmission of messages and maintaining privacy of the communication is the prime responsibility of the licensor.

If anybody is getting threats or obscene messages, the person has to approach police and lodge a complaint. All states and major districts have cyber cells dealing with such cases. Message interception can be done by designated agencies through a standard operating procedure circulated by the home ministry.

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Investigation by police may lead to further action as per IT Act and the IPC. The official said the DoT’s role is that of a facilitator and it has to ensure that operators extend all support to the law enforcement agencies. “There should be no duplicity of responsibility leading to public inconvenience,” he added.

The department will continue to work with licensed operators to extend all support and cooperation to law enforcement agencies to curb any harassment of citizens arising due to obscene messages.

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WhatsApp has been at loggerheads with the Indian government regarding traceability of messages but it still maintains that it has no plans to end the private nature of the app or remove the end-to-end encryption. The government has been asking WhatsApp to share origin of messages in order to track fake news. There had been a spate of lynchings due to viral spread of fake messages on WhatsApp.

However, the company has put in place a spam detection technology that works round the clock to spot accounts engaging in abnormal behavior. In fact, over the last three months, WhatsApp has banned over 2 million accounts per month globally for bulk and automated behaviour.

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